Impact of COVID-19 on food security and agriculture
• Over half of Yemen’s population is facing severe hunger and malnutrition rates are soaring. For over five years, armed conflict has been the main driver of food insecurity. The country’s collapsing economy, import restrictions and ongoing insecurity are driving food prices up, proving devastating for a population that heavily relies on imports for its staple foods.
• A hotspot Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis in 29 of the 45 most food-insecure districts (according to the December 2018 IPC) was issued in July 2019. The results of the hotspot analysis indicated that 1.2 million people in the 29 analysed districts were in severe acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3+) between July and September 2019.
• Even before COVID-19, agriculture, Yemen’s main economic sector, has been crippled by the compounding effects of displacements; disease outbreaks (including cholera, which infected over 1 million people between 2017 and 2019); and natural hazards (including widespread flooding since mid-April affecting over 150 000 people).
• The presence of plant pests, such as fall armyworm and desert locusts, are further endangering agricultural livelihoods.
The current desert locust crisis is estimated by the World Bank to induce USD 222 million worth of damages and losses for the 2020 agricultural season. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is already supporting relevant authorities (including the Desert Locust Monitoring and Controlling Center, and the Plant Protection Directorate in the Ministry of Agriculture) to implement a number of urgent measures to support surveillance and control operations in the desert locust breeding areas. Additionally, FAO is providing immediate livelihoods support to affected small primary producers (including farmers, livestock owners and beekeepers), agricultural labourers, tenant farmers and sharecroppers through cash-for-work programmes.
• On 10 April 2020, Yemen confirmed its first case of COVID-19. Since then, the number of cases has been rapidly increasing in various governorates. Containment measures have included the imposing of a partial overnight curfew in major cities, closing of workplaces and schools, international travel controls, increased screening and quarantine at ports and internal movement restrictions.
• In a country already facing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, the spread of COVID-19 could have dire consequences not only on the already overwhelmed health system, but also on food security and agricultural livelihoods. Access to the most vulnerable beneficiaries, which was already difficult prior the COVID-19 pandemic, is proving to be a serious challenge in 2020.
• Vulnerable households’ assets are at near collapse and their coping mechanisms have almost been exhausted, leading to negative and extreme behaviours like selling land, productive assets and livestock, which greatly compromise food security at the household level. Acute malnutrition also remains a serious concern for some households in the worst- affected areas.
• Casual labour opportunities have continued to decrease and household income levels are now falling to lower levels since the restrictions came into force. Although imported and locally produced food commodities are available in all markets – and all points of entry (sea and land ports) remain open – food is increasingly becoming inaccessible for vulnerable households, as prices soar. Overall, average retail wheat flour prices are expected to range between YER 272 and YER 350 (around USD 1.1 and USD 1.4) per kg in Aden, Al Hudaydah and Sana’a.
• Remittance flows from migrant Yemeni workers are one of the most important sources of income for the country – amounting to an estimated USD 3.8 billion in 2019. The impacts of COVID-19 are causing a sudden drop in the remittance flow to Yemen, reducing the availability of hard currency in the country and further weakening the exchange rate. This will further reduce the income of 80 percent of the population who already rely on humanitarian aid.