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Sub-Saharan Africa needs to prioritise policies targeted at reducing risks to food security as part of fiscal stimulus packages to counter the pandemic, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF)

IMF SSA AFFood security in sub-Saharan Africa is under threat, said IMF. (Image source: CIFOR/Flickr)

IMF's analysis suggests these policies should focus on increasing agricultural output, and strengthening households’ ability to withstand shocks. This would have the added benefit of reducing inequalities while boosting economic growth and jobs.

Food security in sub-Saharan Africa is under threat. The ability of many Africans to access sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs has been disrupted by successive natural disasters and epidemics. Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, locust outbreaks in eastern Africa, and droughts in southern and eastern Africa are some examples. The COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest catastrophe to have swollen the ranks of 240mn people going hungry in the region. In some countries, over 70 percent of the population has problems accessing food.

The sub-Saharan is particularly vulnerable to the forces of climate change. Almost half the population lives below the poverty line and depends on rain-fed agriculture, herding, and fishing to survive . With each climate shock, whether drought, flood or cyclone, farmers suffer directly, while shortages elevate the price of food for all.

Even before the pandemic, many countries in the region were proactive in protecting their food supply by raising crop productivity and reducing their sensitivity to inclement weather. For example, Mozambique is the location of a global pilot for newly-developed, heat-tolerant bean seeds, while in Ethiopia, some farmers’ yields rose by up to 40 pe rcent after the development of rust-resistant wheat varieties (rust is brought on by higher temperatures and volatile rainfall). Maintaining this momentum calls for continued progress in improving irrigation, seeds, and erosion protection, all of which would substantially boost production. Meanwhile raising farmers’ awareness would also accelerate implementation of these measures.

Concentrating adaptation strategies in sub-Saharan Africa on policies that have outsized impacts, including on food security, will help reduce their costs. Implementation of these strategies will be expensive—US$30bn–US$50bn. 

IMF's analysis finds that savings from reduced post-disaster spending could be many times the cost of upfront investment in building resilience and coping mechanisms. Securing sources of financing is especially challenging against the background of the pandemic and rising global risk aversion. But by stepping up financial support for adaptation to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa, development partners can make a tremendous difference in helping Africans put food on the table and recover from the pandemic.