Responding to a stark rise in food insecurity across the poorest countries

|

This page in:

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically increased food insecurity in the poorest and most vulnerable countries  served by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA). What does this mean for the kind of support these countries need and what is IDA doing to address this emerging crisis?

First, it’s important to understand the scale and stakes of this increase in food insecurity.

According to the World Food Programme, up to 96 million additional people were pushed into acute food insecurity in 2020 across 54 IDA countries. Added to the 137 million acutely food insecure people at the end of 2019 across these countries, this brings the total to 233 million people by the end of 2020. People living in fragile and conflict-affected situations are particularly at risk. World Bank projections (based on application of the findings from a stochastic model to predict food insecurity) suggest this could further increase to about 330 million in 2021.

The sharp rise in acute food insecurity is likely to roll back much of the progress over the last few decades on women and children’s nutrition.  Increased numbers of stunted children will compromise their future human capital and economic productivity.

Second, it’s critical to understand the roots of the COVID-19-induced food crisis.

Unlike the 2008 food crisis, which was driven by disruptions in global markets, the current crisis is driven by disruptions in local job and product markets. Massive income and remittance losses have reduced both urban and rural households’ ability to purchase food.  In addition, supply disruptions to local markets have reduced food availability and increased local food prices.

Import-dependent economies face additional difficulties as currency depreciations have increased the cost of food and other essential imports.  Supply disruptions include: movement restrictions impeding food trade, closing of ‘wet markets’, lower availability of labor, lack of liquidity (particularly for large food traders), closure of fragile informal and micro, small and medium enterprises (which dominate agricultural value chains in most IDA countries), and limited access to agricultural inputs for next season’s production. As a result of these supply disruptions, food price inflation in IDA countries has risen significantly faster than overall inflation, especially affecting the price of perishable and more nutritious foods relative to grains.

These impacts are adding to the multiple drivers underlying the pre-COVID rising trend in global hunger since 2014. This rising trend has been appreciably steeper and started sooner across IDA countries compared to the global increase.

The underlying drivers of the longer-term rise in hunger include climate, conflict, zoonotic diseases and pests, as well as economic shocks.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the frequency of climate shocks to per capita food production has increased from once every 12.5 years (1982-2006) to once every 2.5 years (2007-2016). Maintaining long-term per capita food production growth is becoming increasingly harder with these more frequent weather-induced setbacks.

Violent conflict has surged since 2010, with food insecurity both a consequence and a cause of conflict. Physical insecurity has reduced investment incentives, and violence has disrupted transportation to markets and destroyed infrastructure essential for income growth and food security. At the same time, food insecurity, driven by climate shocks, food price volatility, exclusion, and lack of economic opportunities, has increased conflict risk.

The frequency and impact of other outbreaks of zoonotic diseases—infectious diseases transmitted from animals to humans—beyond COVID-19, such as Avian Influenza, SARS, MERS, and Ebola has increased over the past two decades. Crop pests, such as the recent locust outbreak, compound impacts. Macro-economic shocks have also driven up food prices and overall inflation in several IDA countries.  

According to the latest consensus among the Famine Action Mechanism partners, acute food insecurity “hotspots” over the next 12 months are concentrated in 12 IDA countries: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

That’s why IDA’s response has focused on both immediate food needs and the longer-term underlying drivers of food insecurity.

IDA has provided $5.3 billion in new commitments to food security through the six months to the end September 2020. About half of this response is to meet immediate food security needs, and half to address the longer-term drivers of food insecurity.

Responses to meet immediate food needs have been significant—double the total financing amount of the Global Food Crisis Response Program in 2008-11. This includes financing for scaling up safety net programs, keeping food moving, distributing and improving access to food, protecting jobs and livelihoods, supporting agribusinesses and small-scale entrepreneurs (and next season food production), and mitigating the impacts and spread of locusts to reduce compounding effects on households.

But without attention to the longer-term drivers, food crises will repeat.  In Haiti, for example, IDA combines short-term and long-term assistance: to counter income losses, it provides farmers with seeds and fertilizer to safeguard future harvests, while supporting small irrigation works that increase long-term resilience in the face of climate change.

Responses to address the underlying drivers of food insecurity build on IDA’s track record over the past decade.

Since 2008, IDA has tripled its annual agriculture-related and social protection support, while increasingly focusing on improving climate resilience, reducing the risk of conflict, addressing  zoonotic disease risk through One Health, and expanding economic opportunities. For example, a $60 million IDA grant is helping African countries strengthen the climate resilience of their agricultural sectors by mainstreaming CGIAR research in this area. IDA has also placed an emphasis on enhancing nutrition to build human capital.

Cutting across these areas is the importance of better aligning policies and public spending to deliver on improved food security outcomes. This alignment is critical for attracting more private investment and promoting technological change. Better logistics and digital technologies can also help improve the efficiency, resilience, and inclusiveness of markets and agricultural value chains.

Food security responses within fragile and conflict-affected situations need to increasingly address the interlocking characteristics constraining development in these situations. This includes reducing conflict risks, improving social cohesion and citizen perception of state legitimacy, developing the private sector and jobs, and providing livelihoods for displaced people and refugees, which can all help further improve food security.

The food security agenda is large and urgent. It touches all sectors, regions and factions of society. IDA is stepping up to the challenge  by working with a diverse coalition of partners, including UN agencies, humanitarian organizations, and research institutions to tackle food insecurity across multiple fronts, addressing challenges in agriculture, social safety nets, health, water, and macroeconomic stability. A timely response to the stark rise in food insecurity across the poorest countries means a better future for all. 

The blog is part of a series on ways to ensure a resilient recovery from COVID-19 in the world’s poorest countries. For the latest, follow @WBG_IDA and #IDAWorks.

RELATED

Report: Responding to the Emerging Food Security Crisis

The World Bank Group’s Response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) Pandemic

Authors

Madhur Gautam

Lead Economist, Agriculture Global Practice, World Bank

Join the Conversation