Quarter of Voluntary Service Overseas survey respondents reduced food intake due to the COVID-19 crisis and resulting restrictions

Image by klimkin from Pixabay

Farmers and small – medium entrepreneurs (SMEs) across Africa are facing huge financial challenges resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown measures, according to research released today, World Food Day, by the NGO Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

The VSO survey was conducted in June and July across Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda. It asked 1,800 farmers and SMEs across the five countries to rate how the pandemic had affected their livelihoods ranging from not at all to severe since the start of the pandemic. The results indicate that Nigeria is the most severely hit by lack of money to buy food and essentials because of the impact of the virus and lockdown. Sixty three percent of the respondents in Nigeria rated their lack of money to buy food and essentials as severe or high.

‘’We need a longer period of financial support to get our businesses going again. I participated in a VSO programme in Yola, Nigeria. In 2018 I learned about food production and how to make pastries, then was able to start my own business. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, I have been unable to continue my business due to the restriction of movement. It has affected my livelihood, all the savings I had from the business were spent on food and I am finding it difficult to provide for my family.” Tabitha Dali – Nigerian business owner

 Of the five countries surveyed, Tanzania had far fewer restrictions and Coronavirus cases. Tanzanian survey respondents were least affected by lack of money, with 61% of those surveyed rating the challenge low or not affected at all.

23% of those reporting a lack of funds had reduced their food intake across the five countries surveyed. The highest proportion was amongst Ugandans where more than 38% of the respondents reported reducing their food intake. The respective figures for reducing food intake were 25% of Tanzanians, 24% in Nigeria, 21% in Kenya and 15% in Ethiopia.

Other coping mechanisms included taking out loans or borrowing, using up previous stocks, and relying on government and NGO support. Twenty three percent of the respondents relied on borrowing, another 24% consumed previous stocks, over 9% received government support and over 7% received support from NGOs. Of those who rated the issue as severe, 15% were receiving no support at all from governments and NGOs.

Ruchi Tripathi, Global Practice Lead for Resilient Livelihoods at VSO, who led the research, said:

‘’What comes through in our surveys is a sense of urgency, people are telling us they will soon run out of options, their current coping strategies such as reducing food intake or borrowing money from friends and family, will no longer be feasible within a short time, certainly by the new year. Despite this clear need, the majority are not yet receiving any food assistance support, and time is ticking.’’

‘’In the short-term, urgent action is needed in terms of food and cash assistance to the most marginalized communities, women and other groups around the world. There is an opportunity to ensure any food purchased is from local smallholder farmers to support their livelihoods and revive local economies. But beyond that, we need to build a more food secure future for the long term.’’

The survey indicated a significant appetite to learn new skills or develop new operations to generate income, with close to 46% of respondents across the five countries indicating that this was a top priority. These results echo the findings of a Ceres 2030 report [1] this week, which show that agricultural interventions work most effectively when people have a minimum level of income and education, in addition to access to networks and resources. VSO programmes ensure that continuing to invest in the capacity and agency of the most marginalized people is one of the most effective ways that we can ensure that people can continue to feed themselves and their families.