Although the pandemic's full-scale and long-term impact on food security is yet to be revealed, evidence shows that in countries already hit by acute hunger, people are increasingly struggling to have access to food as incomes fall and food prices rise.
If farmers do not have access to their fields, or do not have the means or access to buy seeds and other inputs to plant or buy feed for their animals, planting seasons will be missed, cultivation will drop significantly and animals will be lost. This means that less food will become available too - in both rural and urban areas.
"We cannot wait until we finish dealing with the health impacts before we turn to food security. If we don't start implementing livelihoods assistance now, we will face multiple food crises. And a bill many times greater," warned FAO Director-General QU Dongyu at a briefing today on the UN agency's revised humanitarian response to COVID-19.
"It's becoming increasingly clear that the pandemic's impacts go far beyond health," said Ramesh Rajasingham, Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.
"Acting early can prevent increasing vulnerabilities but also be a much more cost effective way of addressing this crisis. The role of emergency livelihoods interventions to save lives and livelihoods, and pull back people from the verge of famine is critical. Agriculture-based livelihoods are critical in most countries we work in as they are the main source of income for the majority of vulnerable populations. And this relies on seasons that cannot be missed or skipped," added Rajasingham.
"More and more global leaders are stressing that the pandemic could cost more lives in hunger than in those actually infected by the virus. The worst-case scenario is not a foregone conclusion, but we have to act fast - and at scale," said Dominique Burgeon, FAO's Director of Emergencies.
New funding request to respond to growing needs
FAO's new funding request of $350 million is about three times more than in late March as COVID-19's staggering socioeconomic impacts become more evident.
Additional funding is urgently required to address new needs emerging from COVID-19. New activities will build upon critical livelihood-saving support currently being delivered, including:
- In South Sudan, FAO carried out its largest seed distribution so that farmers do not miss the main planting season. To date, FAO has distributed over 4 million kilograms of the procured and pre-positioned 8 million kilograms of crop and vegetable seeds, and over 100 000 agricultural hand tools to about 1,8 million people. This means that each family can grow enough food for at least 6 months and sell some surplus. In addition, nearly 50 000 people received fishing kits.
- In Somalia, FAO fully transitioned its cash assistance to mobile cash delivery, and, over the last 60 days, transferred over 4 million dollars in mobile money to help 200 000 Somalis access food and other basic needs. FAO has registered more than 2.1 million people on its Mobile Money Platform.
- In addition, 240 000 Somalis are receiving e-vouchers via SMS to get seeds, farm tools, irrigation service and storage bags from local traders. This way, FAO reinjects money into the local economy and avoids supply chain delays due to COVID-19.
- In Syria, FAO supported vegetable producers to set up nurseries, which are estimated to bring farmers an additional income of almost $2 000 per year.
- In Pakistan, FAO carried out an online campaign, engaging 160 000 people to learn about preventing food waste; and raised awareness, including through its farmer field schools, on how to stay safe of COVID-19 transmission.
- In Haiti, FAO distributed seeds and other inputs to nearly 50 000 people ahead of the main agricultural campaign.
Overall, FAO's humanitarian response to COVID-19 impacts will focus on: improving hunger data collection and analysis so that organisations can respond more effectively; maintaining food production, including through scaling up activities so that farmers can take advantage of coming plating seasons; ramping up support to post-production activities, like harvesting, storage, small-scale food processing and conservation, and linking producers to markets to ensure food supply chains stay functional; and, awareness raising so that people keeping food supply chains alive are not at risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Facts and figures on hunger and pandemic's impact on food security:
- There is a growing risk of famine in some countries, potentially even several famines occurring at the same time.
- Even before the pandemic, some 135 million wereexperiencing crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity, out of which 27 million people in "emergency" levels of acute food insecurity - on the brink of famine.
- Somalia is currently experiencing multiple shocks, including Desert Locust, flooding and COVID-19. The FAO-managed Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) warned in May that some 3.5 million Somalis are in "crisis" level of acute food insecurity and above through September 2020 - a three-fold increase compared to early 2020, over 100 percent greater than hunger figures in an average year, and worse than in 2017, when there was a high risk of famine.
- In Afghanistan, more than one in three Afghans - some 10.3 million people- are projected to be acutely food insecure between June and November.
- In Bangladesh, breakdowns in transportation systems are leading to the dumping of perishable food products and dramatic price reductions at the farm-gate, affecting producers' food security.
- In Southeast Asia, COVID-19 is overlapping with a subregional drought.
- In Syria, since mid-March, there have been price increases of 40-50 per cent in staple foods.
- For many high-risk countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the period between April and June coincides with the planting season for main crops.
- Net food importing countries (e.g. Caribbean countries, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela) are particularly vulnerable due to currency devaluation and trade constraints.
- In East Africa and the Near East, where 42 million people are facing acute food insecurity, curving the desert locust outbreak is critical to safeguarding livelihoods and food security.
While there is a high potential for a significant rise in acute food insecurity at crisis level and above in the coming months, this is not inevitable.
"If we support livelihoods now we can help to reduce needs and avoid growing hunger. And protect the most vulnerable from the collateral effects of the pandemic," said Qu.
"Donors were generous and fast in responding to the desert locust upsurge during the past months. We need this continued generosity and advocacy to prevent a steep rise in acute hunger. Thank you for your action now," added the FAO-Director-General.