Kenya confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on 12 March 2020. Since then, the government has been providing daily updates on the number of new COVID-19 infections, recoveries and deaths in the country, as well as implementing several interventions to manage the disease.
The agriculture sector, the largest employer in the country has been devastated by COVID-19. The measures taken by country to curb the spread of COVID-19 such as (lock downs, curfew, and cessation of movement within counties) have disrupted both demand and supply of agricultural product.
Although Kenya has designated agriculture as an essential service and exempts it from the restrictions in movement, the shift in demand from commercial to households coupled with the limited availability of logistical services has hit the sector hard.
COVID-19 hit the country at a particularly critical time when the economy was recovering from the impacts of recent droughts and severe flooding and dealing with the worst desert locust invasion in 25 years.
Women are the backbone of agriculture and play a vital role in the local retail market, particularly in Kenya. The outbreak of the pandemic further restricted their mobility, which was already low. They had to struggle to sell their produce and procure agricultural inputs.
As a result of COVID-19, farmers in Kenya now face several concerns and challenges
1. Reduced household income for farmers and high cost of cultivation
Agriculture dominates the economy of Kenya and employs more than 70% of the workforce. Agriculture contributes USD 1.37 billion in annual exports. The lockdown has hurt Kenyan agriculture exports due to restrictions on the movement of goods.
The pandemic led to a significant decline in household income. The unavailability of agricultural input materials and uncertainty about the marketing of the products has reduced production. Farmers who produce perishable goods like horticulture and floriculture outputs could not sell their products and incurred losses. At least 45% of farmers have seen their household income fall. Other sources of income like poultry and livestock could not help them much due to a substantial drop in demand.
2. Food supply and demand have been greatly affected.
The food supply chain is a network that connects an agricultural system (the farm) with the consumer’s table.
Demand implies the willingness and ability of consumers to pay money for a particular good or service, during any particular periodncluding processes such as manufacturing, packaging, distribution, and storage.
The demand for food has decreased due to uncertainty and the reduction of people’s spending capacity, although this decrease is still slight; the situation could worsen if the pandemic continues for a long time, due to reduced income and job losses
3. Food Security.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity was already on the rise in Kenya due to factors such as climatic shocks and livestock pests and diseases .The desert locust outbreak added to the already growing concerns. COVID-19 has worsened the situation by hampering efforts to fight one of the largest locust swarms in recent times .This reflects vast spending on response measures and humanitarian food assistance. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics estimates that about 12 million people are food poor. These are people whose income doesn’t enable them to consume enough calories for a healthy lifestyle and two-thirds of the food poor individuals are found in rural areas. In most Sub-Saharan Africa countries, the pandemic has already crippled the entire food system and Kenya has not been left behind. This is because of restricted movement which affects the entire aspects of food security (availability, affordability, utilization, and accessibility). Similarly, the movement of agricultural labor has been hampered, which will adversely affect food production. Much as agricultural-related logistics have been largely considered essential, not all people can afford logistical services, and this may ultimately result in high post-harvest losses.
In conclusion the pandemic COVID-19 disease has a great impact on the actions and activities of humanity; agriculture is not outside this impact. Food demand and thus food security are greatly affected due to mobility restrictions, reduced purchasing power, and with a greater impact on the most vulnerable population groups. As cases of contagion increase, governments take more drastic measures to stop the spread of the virus, also influencing the food system. The premise of any measure adopted should be to protect the health and food security of the population.