Reacting to COVID-19: APRA’s rapid response

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) commissioned an in-depth review to draw lessons from previous disease outbreaks and other crises that may be relevant to formulating a coherent policy response in developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Rapid Evidence Review: Policy interventions to mitigate negative effects on poverty, agriculture and food security from disease outbreaks and other crises was led by Steve Wiggins and colleagues at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and conducted with joint support from the APRA programme and the new, DFID-funded, ‘Supporting Pastoralism and Agriculture in Recurrent and Protracted Crises’ (SPARC) programme.

The review addresses two key questions:

  1. What may be the consequences of disease, and responses to it, on agriculture, rural livelihoods, food systems and food security?
  2. What lessons on dealing with those consequences may be drawn from previous crises?

The review finds that COVID-19 is unlike many other crises, and hence caution should be applied to use previous policy responses are a blueprint. There is a large gap on systematic evaluation of policy responses to previous crises, a severe lack and underfunding of rapid data collection on food security and food prices (hence a lot of unknowns!), and policy responses were often found to be ineffective, not adaptive and not taking institutional capacity limits into account.

The research team made the following recommendations for a coherent COVID-19 policy response to protect food security, markets and livelihoods of the most vulnerable:

  1. Livelihoods need to be maintained as far as possible. To protect livelihoods and maintain food systems, provide the means to farmers to expand their production at the next planting season. Allow rural markets to operate with modest restrictions and precautions. Find ways to keep enterprises in food supply chains running, or if they have to close or operate at reduced capacity to ensure they survive the crisis. Furthermore, ensure the flow of remittances remains unblocked at both ends of the urban-rural pipeline. Finally, provide green channels for agricultural inputs, processing and marketing.
  2. Agricultural output can be boosted very considerably over a season or two. In general, economic recovery from crises can be stronger and faster than some fear at the height of the crisis. That’s partly because crises do not greatly damage capitals; partly because recovery commonly mobilises extra effort from actors of all kinds.
  3. Impacts of health crises are uneven and socially unequal, often putting more strain on women and girls. To protect those who are hard hit by the crisis, scale up existing safety nets to reach more people and if necessary, increase payments. Target vulnerable populations broadly to prevent exclusion errors and prioritise rural women when extending safety nets or increasing payments. Ensure that if rural girls are withdrawn from secondary school, there are clear mechanisms in place to encourage them to return after the crisis is over.
  4. Invest in understanding what is happening. Rapid data gathering and analysis including on food security, food prices and informal livelihoods, is essential. Existing data economies can help predict and project impacts of shocks, including COVID-19, where real-time data are lacking.

To complement this Evidence Review, APRA is launching a Rapid Assessment of the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Systems and Rural Livelihoods in Africa. The assessment is seeking to obtain real-time insights into how the crisis is unfolding in different parts of the region and how local people, governments and food systems are responding. Starting in June, APRA researchers will carry out a rolling telephone survey and key informant interviews to gather primary data on the COVID-19 situation in the APRA focal countries of Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The survey will also be conducted by partner organisations in Kenya (Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development) and Zambia, by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS). Approximately 800 households will be interviewed in total (both female- and male-headed households). Once this cohort is in place and the baseline has been established, the informants can be contacted on at least two additional occasions (every 6-8 weeks) to gather updates on local conditions and experiences related to their health status, responses to the threat of Covid-19, agricultural production and marketing, labour and employment, availability of agricultural services, food and nutrition security, and other vital details. Thus, APRA will be able to continue to monitor the evolving situation on the ground to build up a picture of how people are being affected over time.

Lastly, APRA researchers are leading a new set of Case Studies of the Impact of Covid-19 on Agricultural Value Chains in Africa, which builds on its ongoing analysis of the political economy and social difference dimensions of those chains. These case studies are now underway in the APRA focal countries and cover a range of value chains (staple crops – maize, rice; oil crops – groundnuts, oil palm, sunflower; commodity crops – cocoa, tobacco). A COVID-19 component has been added to the research to examine how different actors along those chains are being affected by the policy response to the crisis. For example, many countries have since announced a ‘state of (public health) emergency’, which is disrupting farming practices, the movement of goods and people, etc. Questions that will be asked during the research in the next few months will include: How are different actors in the APRA value chains responding to these changes? Are some able to cope better than others? What effect is this having on farmgate and market prices? Are producers, traders and other private actors finding creative ways around these restrictions – or is the lockdown ‘total’? What kind of decisions have been made, what legislation has been introduced, and how has this affected different actors in the chains? The second element of this work involves implementing a ‘Rapid Market Survey on the Impact of COVID-19 on Agribusinesses for Investors’, which is seeking to examine the effects of Covid-19 on small and medium-scale agri-businesses that are sourcing produce from smallholder farmers in the APRA value chains. The market survey involves targeted interviews with agri-SMEs and is being implemented by APRA in partnership with the DFID-funded ‘Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness’ (CASA) Programme.

Rapid Evidence Review: Policy interventions to mitigate negative effects on poverty, agriculture and food security from disease outbreaks and other crises

Steve Wiggins Rapid Response blog

Image credit: World Bank, Market Place (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)