Linking agriculture to Covid-19 social protection can boost food security
It is estimated that one in five Africans is undernourished, and that 30% of children under five — approximately 59 million — have stunted growth. This constitutes a much higher proportion of malnourished people than the global average of 21.9%. While there has been little research so far into the links between malnutrition and Covid-19, health experts warn that people with weakened immune systems as a result of undernourishment are at greater risk of a range of serious illnesses, and are therefore more likely to be severely affected by the virus.
Moreover, the effects of the pandemic, as well as measures to contain it, have exposed the disparities in Africa’s delicate food systems, and are exacerbating societal inequalities. Since ensuring sufficient access to food is a factor both of sufficient production, as well as supply and access, a comprehensive approach is needed to address the root causes of malnutrition. This requires strengthening the synergies between agricultural, and social protection interventions, to improve the welfare of vulnerable communities during Covid-19 and beyond.
Social protection describes initiatives, both public and private, that provide income or consumption transfers to the poor, protect the vulnerable against livelihood risks, and enhance the social status and rights of the excluded and marginalized (Devereux and Sabates-Wheeler, 2004).
While social protection in sub-Saharan Africa is primarily focused on providing a safety net for chronically and extremely poor populations, there is an increasing recognition of the importance of social security and active labour market support for non-poor rural households that remain vulnerable to poverty, as well as those that move in and out of poverty repeatedly (FAO, 2015a).
A comprehensive social protection system brings together different social protection components in a harmonized and coordinated manner for greater equity, inclusion and efficiency (Winder and Yablonski, 2012) and is therefore relevant to strengthening coordination between agriculture and social protection.
As part of their response to Covid-19, a number of countries are introducing food security programmes that combine productive safety nets with agricultural support for vulnerable persons, enabling them to grow their own food, and hence strengthen their resilience.
Another example of an integrated intervention is linking public food procurement policy with national and sub-national food distribution exercises. Through such efforts to optimize nutrition, and social development outcomes, African countries can also make progress towards several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), and SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities).
This augmented approach will hopefully, not only provide a long-term solution to the endemic plague of food insecurity in Africa, but other socio-economic challenges facing the continent, Covid-19 notwithstanding.
Written by Amanda Namayi
This article is part of Covid-19 Food/Future, an initiative under TMG ThinkTank for Sustainability’s SEWOH Lab project (https://www.tmg-thinktank.com/sewoh-lab). It aims at providing a unique and direct insight into the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on national and local food systems. Also follow @CovidFoodFuture, our Video Diaries From Nairobi, and @TMG_think on Twitter. Funding for this initiative is provided by BMZ, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.