Impact of COVID-19 on food security and agriculture
About 9.3 million people in the Sudan were already in need of humanitarian assistance prior to COVID-19. Since the economic shock of South Sudan’s secession in 2011, the Sudanese economy has been in a downward spiral suffering from structural trade and fiscal deficits, mass poverty, high inflation, high levels of inequality, untargeted fuel subsidies, limited public expenditures on basic services and low fiscal effort that relied on regressive indirect taxes. The country has since struggled to stabilize its economy and offset the loss of foreign exchange earnings, with the gross domestic product halving from USD 66.4 billion in 2011 to USD 33.6 billion by 2019. This slowdown in economic growth coupled with increased fuel prices and double digit inflation triggered violent protests in recent years. Political instability; conflict in the states of Blue Nile, Darfur and Southern Kordofan; poor basic infrastructure; and the reliance of much of the population on subsistence agriculture, kept close to half of the population at or below the poverty line.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated and compounded the already fragile situation, which in addition to the economic crisis, conflict, displacement and a lack of basic services, is exacerbated by climate-induced disasters such as floods and drought and the food chain crisis (desert locust and other plant and animal pests and diseases). According to the newly released Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, an estimated 9.6 million people are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse levels of severe acute food insecurity, June–September 2020, and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. This figure is the highest on record since the introduction of the IPC analysis in the country.
Coupled with limited income opportunities, high food and commodity prices are further deteriorating the purchasing power of the population. Prices are expected to remain high during the lean season, which will have a further detrimental impact on the purchasing power and food security of households until the next harvest season in November/December 2020. According to the World Food Programme, the cost of the local food basket eached SDG 59.8 in April 2020, an increase of 146 percent compared to the same period last year. With an average local food basket occupying at least 75 percent of household income, increasingly more people have been unable to meet their basic needs.
Since the emergence of COVID-19, the annual inflation rate in the Sudan has climbed to its highest level in almost 25 years. Domestic trade disruptions due to containment measures, including restrictions on gatherings, limited movement of people between and within states and late opening and early closure of markets, have created unstable food markets and resulted in the sudden increase in the prices of basic goods in major urban centres across the country. An analysis conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicates that prices of commodities reached record highs in May and are continuing to rise. Prices of grains, for instance, were at exceptionally high levels in May, about three times above the already high values a year ago. This was mainly triggered by weak currency coupled with fuel shortages and high prices of agricultural inputs, further inflating production and transportation costs brought about by movement restrictions. If the situation does not stabilize, fears of shortages of food and other commodities including agricultural inputs could spread among the population.
COVID-19 related containment measures have also impacted international trade for the Sudan. The export of livestock to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries in particular has been negatively affected by movement restrictions in those countries. Additionally, exports of vegetables, fruits and cash crops have been significantly limited and disrupted during the first half of 2020 due to the extremely high costs of long transit, air and sea freights. This has led to large amounts of vegetables and fruit accumulating in areas of production, affecting the income of vegetable and fruit producers particularly in the Northern Riverine livelihood zone of Northern Sudan and the Flood Retreat livelihood zone of Eastern Sudan, for whom the sale of such products to exporters is a major source of income.
Overall, the most vulnerable sections of the population whose income and livelihoods depend mainly on informal economic activities and daily labour wages have been most affected, to the extent that the majority are struggling to provide meals for their families due to their diminished purchasing power. IDPs, refugees, migrants, returnees, petty traders/small business owners, smallholder farmers, and pastoralists are particularly vulnerable.