COVID-19: 50 million people threatened by hunger in West Africa

The number of people at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition could increase from 17 million to 50 million between June and August 2020

According to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the effects of the coronavirus pandemic could increase the number of people at risk of food insecurity and malnutrition from 17 million to 50 million people between June and August 2020.

As Ramadan begins this week, eight regional and international organizations warn of the impact of the coronavirus combined with the lean season and conflict and insecurity, which will stretch the West Africa population in a period of fasting and sharing for some.

Food workers are struggling to continue their activities and see their livelihoods threatened. Measures must be taken to protect the most vulnerable and ensure food production, so that hunger and malnutrition are no longer a daily threat.

Despite the efforts of governments, many communities in the region's main cities and urban areas are today facing difficulties in accessing food markets, with prices increasing quickly and many basic commodities becoming less available, the consequences of restrictive measures put in place, confinement or curfews, border closures and insecurity in certain areas.

In Burkina Faso, Amadou Hamadoun Dicko, President of the Association for the Promotion of Livestock in the Sahel and Savannah (APESS) says: "In a few days, the 100 kg bag of millet has gone from 16,000 to 19,000 CFA and the litre cooking oil has almost doubled. Likewise, for breeders, the price of a bag of cotton cake to feed their animals has increased. With the virus, in addition to insecurity, I wonder how Ramadan will be lived this year."

The coronavirus crisis combined with insecurity is exacerbating the threat of market stability and hitting an already very fragile food situation with full force. In countries facing humanitarian crises, access to food has become very difficult. In Burkina Faso or Niger, humanitarian aid is unable to reach and cover the food needs of thousands of displaced persons and the emergency has become vital.

While the agricultural season is also beginning, producers and farmers are already severely economically affected by the crisis and have difficulties in accessing quality seeds and fertilizers. 30.5% of West Africa's economy is devoted to agriculture, which is the largest source of income and livelihood for 70-80% of the population, mainly women who are on the front line. "We have lost 75% of our market because of the lockdown of the city of Bobo Dioulasso," said Mrs. Toe Hazara, who works at the Café Rio dairy in Burkina Faso. "This situation is unbearable because we can no longer support the expenses of our 13 employees and pay our suppliers," she said.

Pastoralist communities, already hit hard by the impacts of climate change and insecurity, can no longer ensure the transhumance of livestock, made impossible by the closure of regions or borders, which risks increasing conflicts between herders and farmers.

"The introduction of curfews restricts the possibility of watering the animals at night, so the crowds around the water points are very high during the day," said Ismael Ag, breeder member of the Billital Maroobé Network (RBM).

To overcome this crisis, farmers, herders, fishermen, and food processors are counting on the support of the region’s governments to carry out a production campaign that has begun in most localities. Ibrahima Coulibaly, President of the Network of Farmers' and Producers' Organizations of West Africa (ROPPA) said: "We also hope that political decision-makers and citizens will become more aware of the need to encourage local production and consumption, which has even more meaning and importance today."

The undersigned leaders of peasant organizations and international NGOs call on all governments to control prices, to ensure the supply of food from family farms and the transport of goods across borders, and also to put in place social safety nets to help the most vulnerable.

In this global crisis, regional and international solidarity is also required and the support of donors to West African States, farmers' organisations and civil society is urgently needed to help them face this crisis in a fragile regional context.

The signatory organizations:

  • Action Against Hunger
  • APESS
  • CARE
  • Oxfam
  • RBM
  • ROPPA
  • Solidarités International
  • Save the Children

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CARE has spokespeople available. For media inquiries, please contact:

Lama Alsafi
media@care.ca | 613-228-5641

Notes to editors:

  • CARE is carrying out food security and nutrition programming across West Africa as well as emergency food and cash distribution in Niger and Nigeria.
  • CARE is preparing contingency food stock in Mali as the lean season approaches.
  • In 2019, CARE reached 3 million people across West Africa with food and nutrition security and resilience to climate change support, indirectly benefiting a further 11.7 million.

About CARE Canada:

Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE develops solutions alongside women and girls in developing countries to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty and out of crisis. CARE stands with women and girls around the world in economic empowerment. We bring women, girls, and their communities together to challenge inequality while facing issues like food insecurity, climate change, and emergency relief in times of crisis or disaster. CARE works in 100 countries around the world.

To learn more about CARE Canada, visit www.care.ca