“I stopped my petty trading due to the inflation of the price of goods due to COVID-19, and now I am a housewife with a sick husband and no means of survival,” says Fatou. The 51-year-old, lives with her husband and their 10 children in Banjul, the capital of Gambia, a country of 2.1 million people.
Conflict, economic downturn, and soaring food prices have led to the highest levels of food insecurity in West and Central Africa since 2014. More than 31 million people will not have sufficient food to eat at the height of the annual hunger season from June to August.
While the COVID-19 pandemic’s caused job losses across the world, here vulnerable families and low-income earners face a particular challenge as so many work in the informal sector—people like domestic workers and street traders whose livelihoods were disrupted by coronavirus restrictions. Without income, these families struggle for a nutritious meal.
Fatou’s family are among those 34,2000 people who benefit from the Government’s nationwide COVID-19 emergency rice distribution supported by the World Food Programme (WFP). Since the outbreak of the pandemic, WFP has been working with sister UN agencies in Gambia to safeguard livelihoods and improve the food security and nutrition needs of people, particularly the vulnerable population as the Governments seeks to push back the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Fatou is married to Lamin Bah, a Quranic teacher at the Albion primary school, forced to stay at home due to ill health. Fatou was a petty trader who sells oranges, groundnuts, and mangoes at a small stall she placed in front of the compound she and her family are renting to support their day-to-day expenses.
Rice is the staple food in Gambia, and like so many other’s Fatou’s family depend on it.
When there is no money to cook stew or soup to eat with the rice, they make rice porridge, add sugar and milk to it.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a bag 50kg of rice cost less than US$25 (1,200 dalasi), while a bag of 25kg American rice cost US$12. However, the price of rice inflated during COVID-19 to 1,400 Dalasi for 50kg bag of rice US$28 and US$14 for a 25kg bag of rice.
After selling, Fatou makes a profit of 15 to 25 Dalasi (US$0.5) while her husband earns less than 3000 Dalasi US$60. He said the money is not enough to pay his house rent, school fees, a bag of rice, and other household expenses. He said he also needs money for medication to curb his health issues.
“I wake up every day and watch my family eat the same soup all the time, breaks my heart, but that is my limitation,” says Fatou.
She adds: “We cannot afford to cook fresh stew or soup every day, so we eat one cooked meal for two days.”
More than 42,000 households will benefit from the Nationwide Rice distribution of which pregnant and nursing women and women-headed households are among those prioritized. Households receive 50kg bag of rice each month for four months, dispatched in two batches -- this is assistance started in February and will last through May.