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Jordan Food Security Update - Implications of COVID-19 (July-August 2020)

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** Executive Summary**

While the government in Jordan maintained its efforts to keep COVID-19 pandemic spread under control, the pressure on food security has increased in Jordan as COVID-19 spillover effects expose structural challenges in the economy. Among Jordanians, 53 percent are vulnerable to food insecurity– corresponding to around 3 million individuals– and around 3 percent (219 186 Jordanians) of households are food insecure. Among all governorates, rural governorates are most susceptible to food insecurity, with Al-Tafilah by far the most food insecure region with 20 percent of households being food insecure.

With an economy already in crisis, COVID-19 has pushed 17 percent of Jordanians to permanently lost their jobs with unemployment skyrocketing to 26 percent in 2020. This is leading Jordanian households to adopt livelihood-coping strategies to adapt to food insecurity. Up to 42 percent of households are resorting to harmful livelihood coping strategies (crisis or emergency level) to address essential needs, compromising future household coping and productive capacities. While the vast majority among Jordanian households show an acceptable food consumption (96 percent), the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced households to economize with food, with 55 percent of household using consumption-based coping strategies (as compared to 34 percent in 2014).

The food insecurity extends to the refugee community, as Jordan hosts one of the highest numbers of refugees globally. Data from July/August 2020 show that 21 percent of refugee households in host communities are food insecure, corresponding to 131 613 individuals 1 . These households have extreme food consumption gaps or rely on potentially irreversible coping strategies that will compromise future household productivity. Another 67 percent of households are vulnerable to food insecurity, equivalent to 417 293 individuals. Only 12 percent are food secure.
The Jordanian economy continues to be under stress from the unfolding implications of COVID-19. While the Jordanian government has introduced exceptional measures to protect formal sector workers, temporarily suspending some clauses of the Labor Law and introducing measures to prevent layoffs in the formal private sector, COVID-19 continued adding immense pressure on the jobs market during the second quarter of 2020. The formal sector constitutes around 56 percent of employment sector, including both public (34 percent) and formal private sector (22 percent). This leaves 44 percent of employees who work in the informal sector – and which includes most of labor in agriculture –left exposed to the shutdowns and economic crisis without any labor protections.

The latitude of government intervention, including to stabilize food security, will only become more limited. The fiscal stress will not be relieved by any economic growth and any increased government revenue, as the Jordanian private sector takes a heavy toll as the whole economic cycle falters. While the economy is opening up, only half of private sector enterprises – with a majority working on the food and beverages industry – were confident that they would weather the economic crisis resulting from COVID-19 and resume profitability.

Food and agriculture import costs are rising as Jordan seeks alternative sources for specific commodities being restricted for export, such as rice and pulses. With Jordan being highly import dependent, and with exports of key staples such as corn, wheat, and rice being highly concentrated among top-50 countries most affected by COVID-19, Jordan’s food supply will only grow more volatile as a new wave of COVID-19 unfolds. “Building Back Better” (BBB) needs to start immediately for Jordan . The government, development partners, private sector, NGOs and social enterprises need to come together to hack solutions for the implications of COVID-19 on food security at the local. BBB measures on high priority as COVID-19 unfolds in Jordan include trade diversification, digitization, and enabling social enterprises, which can create innovative approaches to value chain efficiency and inclusion, which are greatly needed to roll back the negative implications on Jordan’s food security.