Food Coalition

Rural social protection in Africa

COVID-19 poses significant challenges to already strained rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of food-insecure and poor people live. The pandemic is exacerbating long-term, complex crises in the region arising from economic downturn, conflict and extreme weather events. Prior to COVID-19, Africa was already the continent most affected by food crises, accounting for 54 percent of all people in food crisis globally. More than half of the world’s 135 million people experiencing severe or acute food insecurity are in Africa – and this is expected to increase as the effects of COVID-19 compound the continent’s protracted problems. Even before the pandemic hit, Africa was feeling the economic effects of the global recession prompted by the sharp decline in demand and production from those regions first affected by the virus (China, the European Union and the United States of America). Measures to slow the spread of the virus in sub-Saharan Africa, such as social distancing, school closures, the prohibition of gatherings, the closure of non-essential businesses and the halting of non-essential economic activities, have had devastating consequences.

These impacts are worsening already rising rates of hunger, malnutrition and poverty in precarious situations across the region. The March 2020 Cadre Harmonisé depicts an alarming situation in West Africa, the Sahel and Cameroon. In the period from March to May 2020, for example, an estimated 14 million people in the region were estimated to be severely food insecure. Projections for the lean season, from June to August 2020, suggest an unprecedented 19 million people at risk of severe food insecurity, largely due to drought (Senegal) and increased conflict and displacement in the Sahel (particularly in Burkina Faso and Mali), generating significant refugee populations. The fall army worm and desert locust may further impact West and East African farmers in 20202021; locust swarms have already had significant effects on farmers and food security in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. COVID-19-related containment measures have disrupted traditional transhumance patterns, which may lead to further tensions and local displacement. Weather extremes, such as flooding and drought in Rwanda and Zambia, have led to production shortfalls, and Rwanda is contending with growing numbers of displaced people from surrounding countries.

Limited basic social services and a lack of essential risk-management mechanisms, such as social protection, are adding to the risk of infection in rural areas and compromising people’s well-being, socioeconomic activities and livelihoods. Vulnerable groups, such as children, women, youths and indigenous peoples, face additional challenges. Moreover, the rural economy in sub-Saharan Africa is predominantly informal, employing up to 80-90 percent of workers, exposing them to income volatility and the risk of severe food insecurity, worsening diet and poor enforcement of health-and-safety norms.

Putting in place new social-protection measures and expanding and adapting existing ones will be
key to containing the spread of COVID-19, to protecting livelihoods during the response and to
empowering and strengthening the capacity of rural communities for longer-term recovery.

Priority Areas of work: Economic Inclusion and Social Protection to Reduce Poverty
SDG: 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 5. Gender Equality, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 10. Reduced Inequality, 13. Climate Action, 16. Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Level: Regional
Region: Africa
Country: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Zambia
Budget: USD 25 million


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