By Esther Nakkazi
COVID-19 has increased food insecurity in East Africa with populations who are food insecure increasing by 38% and 44% in Kenya and Uganda respectively and in both countries, new research conducted by CABI scientists has revealed.
The regular consumption of fruits decreased by about 30% during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to a normal period (before the pandemic).
The study, published in the journal World Development, suggests that households indicated a change in their dietary patterns in response to the COVID-19 outbreak by consuming less diverse diets, skipping meals, and reducing portions of food consumed. This points to the negative impacts of the pandemic on household food and nutrition security, the scientists say.
Dr. Monica Kansiime led a team of researchers who discovered, from a random sample of 442 respondents, that more than two-thirds of those surveyed have experienced economic hardship due to the pandemic.
The study was conducted through online questionnaires using WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram, Twitter, and email, as COVID-19 induced social distancing and lockdowns did not allow face-to-face interviews. This limited the amount of information collected and the generalisability of the findings, the researchers say.
In both countries, about two-thirds of the respondents were male. Roughly, two-thirds and one-third of the respondents in Kenya and Uganda, respectively, were youth aged between 18-35 years. A large proportion of the respondents had a tertiary level of education.
Half of the respondents in Kenya were salary earners, compared to nearly three-quarters of those in Uganda. The other main sources of income included wages, farming, self-employment, and transfer payments. The majority (63%) of the respondents in Kenya earned less than 500 USD per month, compared to 44% of the respondents in Uganda.
Besides income effects, the respondents mentioned other COVID-19-induced social challenges such as restricted movements, interrupted work schedules, mental health issues, and isolation.
“Taken together, the results suggest that although the COVID-19 pandemic is causing detrimental effects on all economic sectors, farmers are more likely than salary and wage earners to report suffering income shocks. Potential explanations include difficulties for farmers to go to farms, access to inputs, or to transport their produce to markets due to COVID-19 induced lockdown,” said Dr. Kansiime.
The researchers found that compared to salary and wage-earning workers, the farmers in this sample earned relatively low incomes. Consequently, even a small shock to their income-earning activity could cause devastating effects.
“During the COVID-19 period in Kenya, more than half of the respondents were worried about insufficient food, unable to eat healthy and nutritious food, ate reduced portions of food, and consumed limited food varieties. However, before the COVID-19 outbreak, only 30% of the respondents in Kenya experienced these food insecurity situations,” says Dr. Justice Tambo, co-author of the study.
Similarly, the number of respondents in Uganda who reduced the amount of food eaten, were unable to eat healthy and nutritious food, consumed less diverse diets, or were worried about not having enough food to eat increased significantly by about 30, 35, 45, and 50 percentage points, respectively, during the COVID-19 period relative to a normal period.
Except for vegetables in Kenya, the number of respondents who regularly consumed each of the five food groups – fruits, vegetables, fish and seafood, meat, and poultry – reduced by about 50 percentage points during the pandemic.
This is a cause for concern, the researchers argue, given that some of these food groups are important sources of micronutrients needed for good health. Estimates suggesting that over two billion people worldwide already suffer from micronutrient deficiency.
“Since the last 45 days of the outbreak of this deadly disease, so many people have traveled back to rural areas to hide. This has made my business weak because most of my customers went away, and the current situation now is nothing but survival. There is no movement after 7 pm, and this is reducing the business activity hence lowering income,” remarked a self-employed respondent in Kenya.
“I used to sell some vegetables to schools and now that schools are closed, I have a problem. There is a lack of market for the farm produce, and as a result, the produce is rotting at home,” said a farmer in Kenya. Schools in Uganda and Kenya remain closed.
As a result of the hardships faced by residents in Kenya and Uganda, the respective governments have put in place a range of financial and economic policy changes to try and mitigate the impacts.
In Uganda, the informal sector provides 81% and 90% of employment opportunities in urban and rural areas respectively (UBOS, 2018), while in Kenya the informal sector is estimated to account for 83.6% of total employment providing most urban informal settlement dwellers with daily wages (UEWEA, 2020)
These include, in Kenya, proposals for a post-COVID-19 economic stimulus package of 53.7 billion shillings ($503 million) to support businesses that have been hit by the pandemic and in Uganda, the government introduced repayment holidays, debt relief of up 12 months, and a reduction of the central bank lending rate from 9% to 8%.
Food relief to vulnerable workers has also been considered particularly those whose daily activities would be affected by the lockdown, in a way of extending social protection to vulnerable sections of the population.
However, it is feared that social assistance programs like direct cash and in-kind transfers to households and waiver of utility fees could have yielded more favorable outcomes to such households, in particular, the wage earners whose earning has been affected by restrictions.
“The relief measures came into effect when people had already lost their sources of income, and social protection measures were hardly implemented due to logistical challenges, hence amounting to minimal relief,” Dr. Kansiime said.
The scientists believe the results of the survey suggest that that ongoing and future government responses should focus on structural changes in social security by developing responsive packages to cushion members pushed into poverty by such pandemics.
Such measures, they say, should also build strong financial institutions to support the recovery of businesses in the medium term, and ensuring the resilience of food supply chains particularly those making available nutrient-dense foods.
Full paper reference
Monica K. Kansiime, Justice A Tambo; Idah Mugambi; Mary Bundi; Augustine Kara; Charles Owuor, ‘COVID-19 implications on household income and food security in Kenya and Uganda: Findings from a rapid assessment,’ XXX 2020, World Development, DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.105199
The paper can be read open access here: https://www.