The enacted COVID-19 restriction measures that aimed at curbing the spread of the virus have affected the country’s agricultural value chains, from producers to consumers. For the agricultural community, the implications have been particularly relevant in terms of accessing agricultural inputs, pastureland, water and transportation of products to the market. In ensuring the resilience and sustainability of these livelihoods, livestock producers and fisherfolk included in the sample found these measures more challenging than did the crop producers surveyed.
Food insecurity as measured through the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) module concluded that about 53.6 percent of the surveyed households find themselves in a state of moderate food insecurity or worse. In turn, 19 percent of households surveyed attributed their food insecurity experiences mainly to COVID-19 and its impacts on their livelihoods.
Based on a combination of livelihood and food security indicators, the top four hardest hit household categories were:
• households whose primary source of income comes from agricultural wage labour;
• households relying on non-agricultural wage labour;
• households deriving their main income from humanitarian and other forms of assistance; and
• households producing and selling livestock products.
Over one-third of the surveyed households reported more than a 50 percent decrease in their main source of income over the past three months, while 85 percent reported having incurred in debt that they had not been able to repay at the time of the survey. Still, it is worth noting that the household survey was administered during the planting and growing season of major crops, which normally involves higher than usual investment costs for households.
The majority of households have been resorting to negative coping strategiesin times of crisis in order to meet their immediate food needs. The most commonly adopted coping strategies reported include:
• borrowing money or buying food on credit;
• reducing essential non-food expenditure; and
• reducing expenses on agricultural, livestock or fisheries inputs.
Despite a favourable weather forecast for crop production, 43 percent of the surveyed households expect that their production will be lower than the previous year. In addition, a large majority (66 percent) of the surveyed households experienced unusual difficulties in crop production, namely pest infestations and high prices of agricultural inputs, but only 8 percent of the surveyed households reported difficulties in accessing land due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Over 40 percent of the surveyed households reported a decline in the number of livestock owned compared to last year. The major difficulties cited by livestock producers were animal disease and lack of feed and veterinary services.
One in two of fisherfolk households reported a decrease in fish production of over 50 percent during last three months, citing constraints to fish production activities due to a lack of fishing materials, reduced market demand and high fuel prices.
Disrupted livelihoods and stifled income opportunities are increasingly diminishing people’s purchasing power. Traders experienced a reduction in the number of customers and an increased number of requests from the customers for carrying out purchases on credit.
Both the high transportation cost of food commodities due to fuel shortages and the limited movement capacities due to COVID-19 restrictions impacted food availability in the surveyed markets.
Cash, seeds, fertilizer, destocking and agricultural equipment were cited as priority needs for households.
The reinforcement and scaling up of the ongoing livelihood restoration and food security programmes is strongly recommended. As such, the strengthening of agricultural extension services and the establishment of a regular food security and livelihood monitoring system are important areas to consider in stabilizing the current situation.