Since the emergence of coronavirus in December, China has seen food prices increase by more than 20 percent, rising at the fastest rate since 2008. Food prices in Sudan have tripled and Rwanda became the first African government to set prices for basic staple foods as it saw prices jump— highlighting the potentially devastating impact of the pandemic on global hunger and food insecurity.
As coronavirus continues to spread, many vulnerable sub-Saharan African countries will be hit the hardest by the pandemic, as they lack the necessary infrastructure and the capacity to respond to external shocks such as price volatility. When Ebola hit Liberia in 2014, the price of cassava skyrocketed by 150 percent and labor and transport disruptions left a large percent of farm land uncultivated. Rice prices in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone rose by 30 percent, reducing household incomes and increasing the level of hunger and malnourishment across the region. Additionally, the global food crisis of 2007 and 2008 sparked riots and social unrest, and pushing more than 130 million people into poverty.
Furthermore, health shocks caused by a major pandemic like COVID-19 have the potential to trap millions in poverty given the lack of social safety net in many developing countries. A USAID-funded study of 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia found that families had to sell their assets or take out high-interest loans in order to respond to health shocks with many falling back into poverty.
In addition to tremendous human suffering, the pandemic will have vast impacts on the economies of countries across the globe. According to the Organization for Economic Corporation and Development (OECD), coronavirus poses “the greatest danger since the financial crisis,” projecting that global economic growth will slow to just 1.5 percent this year. Africa’s economic growth is also projected to decline from 3.2 percent to 1.8 percent, far below the minimum 8 percent annual growth needed for Africa to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Such a drastic economic downturn will force millions into deeper poverty and increase food insecurity across the globe. According to the International Food Policy and Research Institute, approximately 14 million people will slide into poverty for every 1 percent decline in global economic growth. Moreover, border closures and movement restrictions will have vast impact throughout the global food supply chain and global labor forces, damaging the agriculture sector that account for 23 percent of Africa’s economy.
“We need to recognize that this is going to be a development setback in many countries,” testified USAID Administrator Mark Green recently, emphasizing that the pandemic could reverse years of progress against extreme poverty and hunger. Africa fortunately has not yet seen a significant number of confirmed coronavirus cases, but as the head of the World Health Organization warned, “Africa should wake up” and accelerate the preparation to prevent significant setback on years of development progress.