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Impact of COVID-19 on agriculture, food systems and rural livelihoods in Eastern Africa: Policy and programmatic options

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  1. The triple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, desert locust invasion and floods has adversely affected food and nutrition security and rural livelihoods in Eastern Africa.

  2. Preliminary analyses of the impact of the pandemic in the subregion reveal disruptions to access to agricultural inputs (including labour), extension and advisory services, and output markets for many farmers, fisherfolk and pastoralists.

  3. Safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable people is important in the short term. In addition, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) calls for coordinated recovery efforts focused on building the resilience of food systems by targeting the worst affected groups: smallholder farmers (especially pastoralists), children, youth, women, migrants and informal workers, and micro-, smalland medium-sized enterprises.


The FAO Subregional Office for Eastern Africa is a technical hub which supports nine countries in Eastern Africa: Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda. It has a core team of professionals with multidisciplinary expertise. It is responsible for developing, promoting, overseeing and implementing agreed strategies for addressing subregional food security, nutrition, agriculture and rural development priorities.

COVID-19 hit the Eastern Africa subregion at a particularly critical time when the economies of a number of countries in the subregion were recovering from the impacts of recent droughts and severe flooding and dealing with the worst desert locust invasion in 25 years. In addition, conflictand climate-induced displacements are prominent in the subregion, with more than 7 million displaced people in camps or settlement situations in only four countries (1.78 million in Ethiopia, 1.67 million in South Sudan, 2.65 million in Somalia and 1.43 million in Uganda). The cumulative effect of these shocks has eroded the resilience of large segments of the population and strained governments and humanitarian agencies (UNHCR, 2020).

To date, all countries in Eastern Africa have recorded cases of COVID-19. To contain the spread of the pandemic, lockdowns, curfews, and travel restrictions were put in place by all countries, to varying degrees, based on reports from FAO country offices. The subregion is predominantly composed of low-income countries (The World Bank, 2020a), with the exception of Djibouti (The World Bank, 2020b) and Kenya (The World Bank, 2020c) that are lower middle-income, and with the majority of the poor populations living in rural areas or informal settlements. Reliance on agriculture and casual daily wages for survival is very high. Livestock is the backbone of the economies of Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan. The livestock sector supports livelihoods of over 40 million people and comprises almost half of the livestock population in sub-Saharan Africa.