COVID-19 and the lockdown continue to have a disastrous impact on food and nutrition security in Southern Africa. The lockdown delayed NVAC assessments in several Member States, allowing only a partial analysis in the July Synthesis Report and necessitating this update to provide a fuller picture.
Currently, close to 51.3 million people in both urban and rural areas of Southern Africa are food insecure, the highest number ever recorded by the SADC RVAA Programme, and this figure does not fully factor in the impacts of COVID-19. Based on the available data, the COVID-19 pandemic had a limited impact on food production (availability). However, while the region produced sufficient staple cereals for the 2020/21 consumption year, distortions in the distribution of this food continues to limit access for those that need it, in particular vulnerable populations facing disruption to commerce and livelihoods.
The urban poor have been suffering since the very start of the lockdown, as they rely wholly on the market for their food. The lockdowns have also disrupted rural livelihoods, particularly those activities and income sources linked to the urban economy. Diets have worsened as diverse varieties of food become unavailable, inaccessible and unaffordable to the most vulnerable households, contributing to malnutrition.
The region also faces crop pests and animal diseases. In November, SADC launched a USD 20 million appeal to respond to the spread of the African Migratory Locust (AML, link), which is threatening winter crops and the next main planting season, which started in October. Seven million people who are still recovering from the impact of the 2019 drought may experience further food insecurity due to AML.
In addition, poor rainfall and economic challenges affected Zimbabwe, while dry conditions impacted harvests in Eswatini, Lesotho, south-eastern Angola, southern Madagascar and Mozambique.
Rural food insecurity is expected to peak between November 2020 and January 2021, by which time many smallholder farming families would have depleted their own food stocks ahead of the next harvest in April 2021. It should be remembered that even before the lockdown, the region was on course to reach levels of food insecurity similar to the previous year, when 41.2 million Southern Africans were in need – itself the highest figure in a decade.
The region also faces the triple burden of malnutrition. Children under age 5 are fed predominantly poor diets: 9 Member States report stunting rates above 30%, while 4 Member States report obesity rates of above 10%. Given the scale of disruption, significant increases in food and nutrition insecurity levels are expected across the region. While much is already being done, stakeholders are called on to mount a coordinated response to the serious rural food insecurity expected by January 2021, whilst at the same time assisting those long since seriously food insecure due to COVID-19 in cities and villages across the region. Recommended assistance includes a combination of food and cash- based transfers.
Shock-responsive social safety nets must also be scaled up and special attention paid to the rising cases of domestic violence and gender-based violence (GBV) during the COVID-19 lockdown. Gender perspectives should be incorporated into all responses to COVID-19 to ensure that actions during and after the COVID-19 crisis aim to build more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies.
To address COVID-19 directly, the region should focus on the development and implementation of a regional strategy on hygiene and hand washing with soap.
Member States are monitoring food and nutrition security and are encouraged to continue to explore with partners the feasibility of virtual data collection methods, forecasting, and decentralization of vulnerability assessment processes. Where face-to- face interviews are undertaken, assessors should adhere to the COVID-19 regulations of the respective Member State Government. Thus far, the 2020/21 assessment experiences have yielded important and rich insights in this regard.
Looking ahead, the entire region is forecasted to receive normal to above-normal rainfall between October 2020 and March 2021. Episodes of heavy rains and flooding should be expected, which may lead to waterlogging and nutrient leaching. Member States are encouraged to support farmers with access to inputs and knowledge to take advantage of the predicted rains while putting in place measures to mitigate the potential negative impacts of floods.