Sub-Saharan Africa's Agriculture and COVID-19: How the Pandemic will (re)Shape Food Markets

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the global food system under sustained pressure and has triggered various policy responses to manage both supply and demand. While the policy responses of key global food producers have been publicised and their implications well documented, there has been a dearth of information on sub-Saharan Africa. Yet food insecurity is relatively high in the region, and there is considerable reliance on the world market for food. This policy insight looks at how sub-Saharan African countries have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic to mitigate its impacts and explores the effects of policy responses on the continent’s food system. Overall, sub-Saharan African countries have defaulted to standard interventionist policies. The first of these are market and trade policies aimed at either augmenting the domestic food supply by releasing grain via Food Reserve Agency (FRA) operations or restricting/facilitating regional cross-border trade, depending on the perceived market supply. The second are food production policies that are mainly targeted at smallholder farmers through input subsidies. Except for South Africa and Namibia, most of sub-Saharan Africa does not have the fiscal capacity to provide sufficient social protection and income support to augment food demand and reduce poverty. Instead, these consumers are experiencing diminished incomes and higher food prices. With COVID-19 negatively impacting regional food markets to differing extents, the vulnerability of food systems and the ineffectiveness of policy responses have become more apparent. Therefore, food systems on the continent will need to evolve and become more resilient to future shocks, and policy has to become more agile and responsive to address multiple challenges.