Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences | JIRCAS

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25. New Coronavirus Pandemic ― Food Security Crisis in East Africa: Urbanization and Structural Transformation of Agriculture


According to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), the world's largest humanitarian aid organization, the COVID-19 was first detected in Kenya and Ethiopia in the mid-March 2020. By late April, more than 2000 infected cases were reported in East Africa. The region has been struggling with the outbreak of the dessert locust (Pick Up 2) since the end of the last year and the beginning of 2020, and is still recovering from the 2019 drought and floods. With the outbreak of the COVID-19, the region is now facing a triple threat.

Currently, new swarms of dessert locust have been reported in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, and mature swarms have already arrived in Southeastern cropping areas of South Sudan and are spreading in areas of Karamoja sub-region in Uganda. In the East African region, the rainy season from March to May, so-called the long-rainy season has already started in Kenya, and heavy rains and floods have already being experienced in some regions. The rain provides optimal conditions for locust breeding and there is concern that more swarms will form in June-July.

According to the WFP, although the population of nine East African countries in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Djibouti, and Eritrea is only about 3% of the world's population, the region also hosts 22% of the world’s total number of acutely-food insecure people. Thus, it is expected that the socio-economic fallout from the pandemic will be far more devastating than the disease itself.

WFP is already facing food security crises in about 20 million people in the East African region. It is estimated that the number of food insecure people in the region is likely to increase from 20 to 34-43 million in the next three months due to effects of COVID-19. Above all, the food security and livelihood crisis of the urban population, who are employed in the informal sector and have already lost their sources of income, is a major concern. The refugee population also faces a serious crisis. For households in the rural areas, it is necessary to pay close attention on how the pandemic affects the farming activities with the approaching cropping season.

Food security of the populations in both urban and informal sectors of Sub-Saharan Africa is closely related to the issues of rural development. According to a 2016 report by the African Alliance for Green Revolution (AGRA), by 2035 220 million youths are predicted to flow into the workforce in the region, where more than 60% of the population is younger than 25 years of age. Even under optimistic assumptions, wage labor opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa are said to be able to absorb only 25% of these 220 million people, and the agriculture and the self-employment sectors, which may not be attractive to young people, have to provide employment opportunities. Rapid urbanization can increase food demand exponentially and put a heavy load on the agricultural system. According to the report, in 1990, one urban resident was supported by three farmers, but by 2020, one full-time farmer had to support two urban residents. It is said that the demand for processed foods will increase due to the increase in income and lifestyle changes due to urbanization, and the dependence on imports of major grains, oil crops, and livestock products will increase. On the other hand, the report says that if the market access increases with the development of the value chain even in remote regions, the relatively high food price maybe attractive to farmers, which may increase the opportunities for farmers to participate in the market and affect the performance of the agricultural sector.

While responding to emergency food assistance, in order to achieve sustainable economic development and food security for post-COVID-19, it is extremely important to invest in agricultural development and supply chain resilience from the perspective of urbanization and economic structural transformation



WFP East Africa Covid-19 Update, 24 April 2020. 

Pick Up 2 Towards the development of preventive control technologies for desert locust

AFRICA AGRICULTURE STATUS REPORT 2016. Progress towards Agricultural Transformation in Africa


Contributor: IIYAMA Miyuki (Research Strategy Office)