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Building systems that protect livelihoods throughout COVID-19

In Congo, COVID-19 restrictions risk is cutting off the country’s capital from the rural regions that provide most of its food

When the socio-economic ramifications of COVID-19 were becoming clear, FAO began monitoring the situation and prioritised scenario building exercises to help make assumptions on the potential impacts of the crises. This exercise pulled together major information from pre-existing food insecurity drivers and vulnerabilities, seasonality of food production, types of livelihoods, the expected evolution of the pandemic and related government policies and containment measures. All these elements come together in different ways depending on the context.

With restrictions being imposed globally, understanding how this would impact upcoming cropping seasons, livestock movements and trade, among others, was and still is critical. Any disruptions to these systems can have grave consequences on livelihoods and food security. With this foresight in hand, FAO acted early in a range of countries to mitigate the pandemics shock on key agriculture and food security systems.

How the virus affects food producers depends heavily on the local context

In Afghanistan, for example, herders now have to lead their livestock along different migration routes. In Kenya, farmers are struggling to access seeds and fertilisers because markets have closed. And livestock keepers in Zimbabwe are having a hard time sourcing animal feed to keep their production going.

Because the COVID-19 crisis is complex, those working to curb its effects – and side effects – on the most vulnerable need to put systems in place that can monitor risk factors and analyses how those risks might upset agriculture and food security. Those warning systems need to be grounded in data and built for countries, regions and the world at large, so trends can be spotted when they emerge.

If a main planting season is upcoming, interventions ahead of time need to be implemented so farmers can access their fields and major inputs to be able to plant. If pandemic related restrictions are already disrupting markets, urgent action is needed to ensure that a forthcoming harvest is not disrupted and farmers can sell their produce. If vulnerable or marginalised groups are likely to be pushed further into hunger, FAO must advocate for the expansion of safety nets to protect them.

This deeper look at the ways that a pandemic can create shocks for the agriculture sector and limits people’s access to food is the first step in supporting vulnerable populations with well-tailored anticipatory actions. These actions are the most effective way to soften the blow that COVID-19 might bring to their lives before the shock reaches a peak. In the case of Sierra Leone, FAO designed an anticipatory action aimed at addressing the expected reduction in crop seeds availability in local markets. The project is helping women farmers grow short cycle crops Part of the produce is purchased and distributed to vulnerable families. This provides cash to producers who are cut off from their markets and it gets food to where it’s most needed without waiting for a food crisis to set in.