Agricultural Livelihoods

East Africa’s food systems under strain

Food market in Kenya IIED
A market in Kenya in April 2020. Photo-credit: Sambrian Mbaabu, World Bank via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Measures to contain COVID-19 are putting a huge strain on millions of people across East Africa who rely on food for their livelihoods – from farmers and producers to street vendors.

New research by our partner the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) shows some of the complex ways the pandemic is affecting East Africa’s food systems. This is part of an IKEA Foundation-funded project on sustainable agriculture in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. 

Disruption to supply chains

According to the research, measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 have caused severe disruption to agriculture and food supply chains across the region.

The last few months have seen mass layoffs of workers due to a fall in foreign demand for exports such as coffee and flowers. Disruption to supplies of seeds have led to delays in planting crops, while farmers in different parts of the region are also facing locust invasions, floods and droughts.

Informal workers badly hit

The research also highlights the need for informal workers and women to be considered as part of a joined-up approach to the pandemic. Many people in the informal sector, such as street vendors, have seen their income dry up.

Giulia Nicolini, researcher at IIED, writes: “If marginalised groups such as informal vendors fall into acute poverty, this will not only impact their own food security, but also that of the many low-income urban residents who rely on them for affordable, nutritious food.”

Read Giulia’s blog in full.