The Challenges of Africa's Urban Food Supply during COVID-19 Lockdown

Considering that the health sectors of most African countries are not adequately equipped to manage the scale of outbreak that countries like the U.S. and U.K. are witnessing, imposing lockdowns is ever more appropriate. However, the lockdowns are affecting food supplies in many households. Two categories of the people are most affected at the time: the average urban dweller, and the urban informal worker.

On one hand, urban dwellers in a typical African country spends at least 35% more on food than rural dwellers. This is mainly because many African cities were not well planned, resulting in high costs of living (e.g. rent, transport) which translates to higher cost along supply chains, including food supply chains.

On the other hand, Africa's urban informal sector provides about 72% of non-agricultural jobs. This encompass individuals -such as hawkers, vendors, artisans, and traders- whose lifeline / survival depends on income earned daily. It is no rocket science then that the present lockdown is least favourable to these categories of people.

In response to this challenge, many governments have begun distributing food aids. But food aid distribution can be challenging as it is often not clear who should be targeted and how best to reach them. Ideally, the urban informal sector workers who rely on daily movements to make ends-meet are the most vulnerable and should get more priority during this period. To this end, Uganda for example has distributed foods to 1.5 million vulnerable residents of Greater Kampala. But knowing how cash-strapped many African governments are at the moment, such interventions is sure not sustainable. Even worse, it is unclear when the bans will be lifted.

Therefore, there is need for a more sustainable means of ensuring that the most vulnerable groups are still able to make ends-meet and help others meet their food needs. Allowing individual street vendors to operate can be helpful at this time; both for the seller who depends on daily sales for survival, and the buyer who does not need to travel far to purchase food items. Although governments frown at this form of vending, it can help provide food security for urban dwellers, as these vendors typically set up their stalls close to where people live. It is also easier to manage crowd congestion in such settings than in open, larger markets.

Photo credit: The Africa Report


Still craving? Check out: FAO and HRW

Article Credit: Michael Adesanya

Tags: #COVID19 #FoodSecurity #UrbanDwellers #InformalSector #Markets

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