COVID-19 and its impact on food security and nutrition in West Africa

© Save the Children Senegal

By Roos Verstraeten

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdown measures have not only caused a global health crisis but also an economic crisis, which together have had an impact on food security and malnutrition globally. Estimates showed that the pandemic could push 148 million people into extreme poverty this year, representing an increase of 20% from present levels (Laborde D, Martin W, and Vos R 2020). In West Africa, a region already experiencing major food and nutrition security challenges, the impact of COVID-19 could reverse the progress made over the past decade. Immediate consequences of the pandemic have included, for example, a reduction in purchasing power and access to food markets, fluctuating food prices, loss of income due to unemployment, and disruption of emergency nutrition programs (Impact of COVID-19 on Food and Nutrition Security in West and Central Africa). Across the globe, responses have included different types of lockdown, restriction of trade, services and programs, and the varied provision of testing and safety supplies. These have had significant impacts at an individual, social and economic level. This spotlight brings together a selection of evidence published since July 1st at global level and for the West African region on COVID-19 and its impact on food security and nutrition.

Global impacts

The Food Security Information Network and Global Network Against Food Crises have provided an update to their 2020 Global report on food crises: Joint analysis for better decisions to incorporate the impact of COVID‑19. It includes, amongst other countries, acute food insecurity estimates for Nigeria, Burkina, and Togo, the main drivers, and how COVID-19 contributes to these.

An E-book, recently launched by IFPRI, brings together a variety of resources presenting a comprehensive picture of the current and potential impact of COVID-19 and the world’s policy responses on global food and nutrition security. It presents key insights and analysis on how the global pandemic is affecting global poverty and food security and nutrition, food trade and supply chains, gender, employment, and a variety of policy interventions, as well as reflections on how we can use these lessons to better prepare for future pandemics.

A webinar by WHO, FAO, UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP summarizes Nutrition in the context of COVID-19: what have we learnt so far?

COVID-19 and its impact in West-Africa

The Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) highlights that the food and nutritional situation remains critical despite measures to revive socio-economic activities. Burkina Faso is facing a triple crisis in security, health and food worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, two provinces in the Sahel region – Oudalan and Soum – have been driven into the emergency phase of food insecurity (Cadre Harmonisé). In addition, more than 535,000 children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition, an unprecedented level according to UNICEF data. The SUN reiterates the call from FAO, WFP and UNICEF to urgently address this worsening nutritional situation in Burkina Faso. Two studies, one in Burkina Faso and one in Nigeria, provide evidence on the impacts of COVID-19 and its related lockdown measures. In Burkina Faso, a study (unpublished work) by Gelli A. et al. assessed its impact on household food security and women and children’s diet and child nutrition indicators. The study included a longitudinal analysis of 4 survey rounds, including over one thousand households and mother child pairs, across 3 regions of Burkina Faso. During the 4th survey round, a quarter of the study sample was surveyed pre-April lockdown, providing the basis for comparisons with households surveyed post lockdown to assess short-term consequences of the lockdown. The analysis found no short-term impact on food security, diets and nutrition indicators after the April 2020 lockdown. There was also no evidence of scale-up of social assistance after the lockdown, and coverage of safety net programs was very low.  The authors concluded that though there was no evidence of major food security related shock in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 lockdown on rural households in Burkina Faso, these households were already struggling with high-levels of food insecurity well before 2020 and they were largely untouched by humanitarian relief programs. In Nigeria, Amare M. et al. – used spatial variation to quantify the impacts of COVID-19 related infections and lockdown measures on household food security, labor market participation and local food prices. Like the analyses at global level, they found that households more exposed to COVID-19 or mobility restricting lockdowns experience a significant increase in food insecurity. Alido and co-authors also describe a fatal case of COVID-19 in an infant with severe acute malnutrition admitted to a pediatric ward in Niger.

Responses through food systems, private sector, and social protection

Three briefs have used data from the COVID-19 Policy Response (CPR) Portal to examine trends in how governments have responded to COVID-19, including examples from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal for the West African region. They zoom in on food systems, private sector, and social protection.  Kennedy and Resnick assessed how governments are keeping food systems functioning during COVID-19 and summarized the distribution of government policy choices and highlight where innovations emerged. Rosenbach and Resnick’s enabling or enfeebling the private sector brief maps government policy responses and business initiatives during COVID-19. They examined trends in how these responses have hindered or promoted the private sector, as well as the private sector’s role in combatting the pandemic. Lastly, Fang and colleagues identify how to scale up and sustain social protection under COVID-19. They summarize patterns that have emerged from the expansion of social safety net policies during the pandemic, aiming to help to prevent vulnerable populations from falling further into poverty and supporting households’ recovery following the pandemic.

The Institute of Development Studies and IFPRI have considered how to improve food systems responses so that these ‘leave no one behind’ as we try to ‘build back better’ post COVID-I9. This positioning paper employed a food systems resilience concept and supplemented this with a political economy angle that “critically examines whose resilience is and should be prioritised in humanitarian aid and donor-funded interventions”. Their framework is highly relevant to guide both donor support and government responses to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

Donor support

In Senegal, Nutrition International (NI) is providing support to the government in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In two vulnerable regions, Kédougou and Kolda, they are distributing hygiene kits and foodstuffs to households, through the Projet intégré de nutrition dans les régions de Kolda et de Kédougou (PINKK). In Guinea, food security is being further undermined by the socio-economic effects of COVID-19. In response, the World Food Program (WFP) will provide food assistance to people in need. WFP is aiming to procure more than 6,000 metric tons of food to provide rations of maize, rice, peas, oil and salt, as well as specialized blended food for the prevention of malnutrition among women and young children as detailed in their brief.

In Abidjan, Ivory Coast, a joint initiative between the WFP, UNAIDS, and the Magic System Foundation, provided a cash transfer to vulnerable households to cover food needs for two months, basic health kits, and advice on nutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development of the United Nations (IFAD) will provide financing to support 210,000 poor rural households in Niger that are vulnerable to climate shocks and food insecurity. With the existing vulnerabilities in the country, the COVID-19 pandemic and responses to it pose a genuine threat to livelihoods. The financing agreement for the Project to Strengthen Resilience of Rural Communities to Food and Nutrition Insecurity (PRECIS) will address the major issues of food and nutrition insecurity in Niger.

Where to go next?

A research paper provides 10 recommendations for African governments to ensure food security for poor and vulnerable populations during COVID-19.

In a commentary to the Lancet, community health workers are identified as a key component in pandemic response strategies for Africa: Africa needs unprecedented attention to strengthen community health systems during COVID-19.

The African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) called upon the African Heads of State and Governments to ensure that financing for nutrition is included in their country’s COVID-19 response and recovery plans.


To conclude this spotlight, we would like to quote Stewart et al. whom in a recent commentary in the Lancet calls upon donors, governments, and development agencies to recognize the value of knowledge translation efforts and rapid response mechanisms to provide governments with the much needed information to make policy decisions. They “call for much needed donor support to bolster low- and middle-income (LMIC) evidence synthesis communities and their capacities” and state that “COVID-19 represents an opportunity to further strengthen and institutionalize evidence-informed policy making across LMICs.”

Other resources

A COVID food policy tracker that captured the development of South African food policies in response to the COVID pandemic (March-July 2020) crisis

Check out the IFPRI COVID-19 portal for its resources and analyses of the COVID-19 impact and the following links identified on COVID-19 and its impact on food security and nutrition:


Laborde David, Martin J and Vos R. Estimating the Poverty Impact of COVID-19 The MIRAGRODEP and POVANA frameworks 1, June 2020. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.36562.58560