July 29, 2020

COVID-19 and Food Systems: Ghana’s Perspective

* This is part of our series on the nexus between COVID-19 and food systems.

Ghana in Brief
The Republic of Ghana is a country along the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean, in the sub region of West Africa. Estimates put its population at 30 million with the capital city being Accra. Rural and urban settlements represent 68% and 32% respectively while about 52% of the labour force is engaged in Agriculture with 29% in services and 19% in industry. Agriculture contributes to 54% of Ghana’s GDP, and accounts for over 40% of export earnings, while at the same time providing over 90% of the food needs of the country (Ghana FactSheet). The nature of Ghana's agriculture is predominantly smallholder, traditional and rain-fed.

Vegetable market at Makola, Accra

Covid-19 outbreak and protective measures in Ghana
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is an easily transmissible disease that was identified  December 2019 in Wuhan, China and declared a pandemic by WHO on 11 March 2020. Ghana’s Ministry of Health confirmed the first two cases of the novel coronavirus on March 13, 2020. Both people tested positive for the disease after their return from a trip abroad. To prevent its spread of the virus, the Ministry of Health of Ghana advised people to follow the global preventive protocols by observing good personal hygiene, avoid shaking hands, and practice social distancing. Since then, the government has put in place several measures to further curtail the spread, including closure of all entry ports and borders, quarantining and testing of exposed persons, testing of symptomatic individuals, contact tracing, travel, and social restrictions. In his first address to the nation on the pandemic, the President, Nana Akufo-Addo announced the closure of all schools in Ghana, from the basic level to the tertiary level, suspension of all religious activities and funeral celebrations beginning 16 March 2020, among other measures. In furtherance to the above measures, a partial three weeks lockdown was placed on two largest cities in Ghana, Accra and Kumasi on March 27.

All these restrictions imposed a great deal of hardships and inconveniences on every citizen both young and old across the length and breadth of the country. Estimates indicate that the government spent about Ghc54.3 million (approx. $9.5 million) on cooked food during the 21 days lockdown period which was given to some 470,000 vulnerable individuals and families in the lockdown areas. However, terrified by a potential risk of food shortage during the pandemic, Ghana instituted measures to keep the food system safely running as an essential sector, markets were well supplied with affordable and nutritious food and consumers still were able to access and purchase food despite movement restrictions. It is interesting to note that the market participants were mainly the poor and the vulnerable as their survival depends on what they do each day in the markets hence was not much concerned about the consequences of the disease while the rich stayed home and observe the strict protocols and depended much on their stored food stuffs.   

Cooked food distribution process during lockdown in Accra

Food situation before COVID-19
Before COVID-19 outbreak in Ghana, Ghana’s food system and distribution was quite good with an abundance of food due to the government programme of Planting for Food and Jobs which was introduced in 2017 to address the declining fortunes of agriculture in the country. The first model of the programme is to ensure food security crops, such as maize, rice, sorghum, soybean and vegetables. This has since been expanded to include groundnut, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, cassava, cowpea, plantain, sweet potato and orange. Some of the successes of the programme after two years include 24% increase in rice production, 72% increase in maize production, 39% in soya bean and 100% increase in sorghum. Consequently, Ghana had started exporting maize to some of our neighbouring countries including Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Togo. Also, Ghana’s production of yam, cowpea, cassava and plantain have significantly gone up, so much that exportation to other countries in the sub-region is ongoing now. This therefore presents a stable food system in the country prior to the pandemic. Ghana’s food system and policy interventions have created opportunities for smallholder farmers to be more productive and relevant to livelihoods. These smallholder farmers are responsible for the provision of an abundance of quality foods to meet the growing needs the urban population. Additionally, open air markets are essential in Ghana since it is the distributional route for food as good marketing system stimulates sales of the produce to potential buyers for consumption.

The Lockdown effect on food system after the Covid-19 outbreak
The immediate effects of the outbreak of the disease and the corresponding containment measures announced pertaining to the restrictions affected people who rely on casual labour to achieve their daily bread. Furthermore, there was panic buying of food within the few days preceding the targeted lockdown which resulted in higher food prices thereby reducing the purchasing power of lower socioeconomic status of individuals and families. In view of this, evidence suggests that some poor households could not stock up on food and therefore resorted to coping strategies such as reducing the quantity of meals or reducing the frequency of mealtimes which has implications on their health status.

Another issue concerns the nutritional contents of the food consumed in the period. The problem is the increased consumption of highly processed foods, increased overall food intake leading to over nutrition, particularly in children with a reduction in physical activities as the overall lifestyle has become sedentary. More specifically, families of high socioeconomic status, in preparation for the lockdown and other restrictive protocols as well as the uncertainty surrounding when normalcy shall be restored, stocked up on food stuffs and processed foods. Therefore, the chances are that they stocked up more on the later which are more convenient and less perishable.

The food system in the era of new normal

It is becoming increasingly clear that the pandemic is not setting us free any time soon as the case count keeps rising each day thereby creating a new era of adjustment in all spheres of life. In view of this, Ghana needs to consider and address four important issues in the food system. The first has to do with consumer protection as demand for products with bioactive food ingredients and adoption of healthier diet to boost immune systems increase. Secondly, attention should be focused on food safety in order to prevent the spread of the virus from one point to another, thus from producers through retailers to consumers. The third issue is that as the pandemic lingers on, there are disruptions in the food supply chain which are affecting food production, and loss of income thereby creating tension and food security risks in the country. Lastly, the sustainability of the food systems in this pandemic era is another matter of concern to be addressed.

Another major area of concern which requires urgent attention is the labour and agro-input shortages due mainly to movement restrictions, social distancing rules which have started to affect producers, processors, traders and trucking or logistics companies in food supply chains, particularly for food products that require workers to be in close proximity and seasonal workers who migrate from neighbouring countries to work on farms in Ghana. At the same time, loss of income and remittances from families abroad is reducing people’s ability to buy food and compensate farmers for their production. Food producers also face large losses on perishable and nutritious food as buyers have become limited and traders stop engaging with farmers.

The coronavirus disease outbreak has exposed some weaknesses in Ghana’s food system  yet it also presents an opportunity to reconsider the production, distribution and consumption strategies so as to build a healthier and more sustainable food system in the country. In furtherance to this, the food system requires a holistic transformation from production to consumption. Therefore, policy-makers should decentralize and democratize the process by inviting all players in the food systems,. In this sense, as the central government provides the necessary impetus and scheme for the transformation, local and subnational actors should be able to identify and outline their own food systems to depict their interests, values, resources and goals. Authorities and research communities should quickly identify the most critical threats to the food system during this pandemic in order to implement mitigation measures.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at John Hopkins University. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html  
Successes of planting for food and jobs highlighted at the 9th Pre-harvest Agribusiness Exhibitions and Conferences. Agrihouse Foundation. Nov 10, 2019. http://www.agrihousefoundation.com     
COVID-19 Ghana’s Outbreak Response Management Updates. Situation Update Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in Ghana as of Thursday Apr 09 2020 12:27:04 Available online: http://ghanahealthservice.org/covid19/
COVID-19 and the risk to food supply chains: How to respond? Policy Support and Governance. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Available online: http://www.fao.org/policy-support/resources/resources-details/en/c/1269383/

COVID-19: Ghana records two case. Daily Graphic on 12 March 2020. https://www.graphic.com.gh
Ghana FactSheet – Ghana Statistical Services. Available online: https://www.statsghana.gov.gh

WHO Director-General’s Opening Remarks at the Media Briefing on COVID-19—11 March 2020. Available online: https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-mediabriefing-on-covid-19---11-march-2020.
Abel Fumey, PhD
Department of Economics
University of Ghana
Legon, Accra, Ghana

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July 24, 2020

COVID-19, Social Distancing, and Food Prices in Nigeria

* This is part of our series on the nexus between COVID-19 and food systems.

The most recently discovered infectious disease COVID-19 is purported to have began in Wuhan, China, around November-December 2019 though traces of the virus have been found in Barcelona, Spain as early as March 2019 (June 29, 2020, Global News). The novel virus has spread across many countries and is now a pandemic, affecting many global economies. Since the disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from nose or mouth, tiny aerosols in the air or through contact with surfaces, it necessitated keeping distance of at least one meter, but usually two between people. The World Health Organization and other epidemiologists have raised people’s awareness of the need for social distancing, which became crucial to curb the spread of the virus. When Edward Hall a cultural anthropologist, in 1963 conceived the word proxemics to describe research regarding social distancing in daily living, it was generally unimaginable that a virus, which was 100 times much smaller than even a bacteria, could cause a dire concern regarding proximity in humans, though knowledgeable people remembered the devastating effects of the 1918 H1N1 pandemic flu which killed upwards of 500 million people (CDC &P, Mar. 20, 2020) . 

Iyana-Iyesi Market, Ota, Ogun State 

The Nigerian Food Market and the Lockdown Waves
Globally, there have been concerns, anxiety, desperate measures because of the pandemic. Issues ranging from hygiene, isolation, and social distancing has been topical in these times. Nigeria is known as the most densely populated black nation globally, with over 200 million people. For Nigeria, the story has been no different; the country has been through waves of lockdowns and movement restrictions over the past months to alleviate the spread of the virus. However, stopping peoples' gathering has been impracticable for the country, as much as the government attempted severally to achieve with the imposition of movement restrictions. For instance, the food markets have not been closed all through the pandemic. The best that was attained was the reduction in the number of days the markets opened at the inception of the first two weeks lockdown, which started March 30, 2020. 

An unmindful Shopping Attitude of Nigerians
The average Nigerian has a very queer shopping attitude, believing that they must physically be in the market to shop. The structures of the market fit a chaotic description, especially for the major ones. The typical Nigerian market is a picture of congestion and chaos. In this situation, a customer may negotiate with about five sellers before eventually buying an item, and physically touching then wares at will. Also, shoppers do not have access to mobile money or online transfers; hence they shop with cash, are delayed further in the market, collecting their balance from a transaction. Social or physical distancing is impossible in this sort of setting, especially where the people do not have a good understanding of how the disease spreads. However, a small proportion of shoppers do not physically appear in the market; rather they place their orders via social media platforms like the WhatsApp group forum. This has been in existence before the pandemic and further entrenched during the period of the outbreak, particularly for those who are quite aware of the essence of social distancing, and have sufficient money to pay for the suppliers’ commission and delivery charges.

Bodija Market Ibadan

Food Supply Shortage and Price Hikes
The lockdowns and the gradual easing of the movement restriction aimed at reducing the spread of the disease, has resulted in dire economic effects globally, and Nigeria has not been left out of this global recession. This period led to a reduction in access to credit, farm inputs, transport services to transport food, and the closure of the borders which also resulted in the shortage of food importation. The situation, as mentioned earlier, resulted in a limited supply of food, which also caused a rise in food prices. The consumer price index for food has been on the increase all through the pandemic period. From 14.9 percent in February 2020 to 15.18 percent in June 2020, showing an increase of about 0.28 percent within only four months, and a forecasted increase to 17 percent which is expected by September 20201 (Trading Economics, 2020).

These increases have been relative. They have cut across all kinds of food items, ranging from potatoes, yams, other tubers, bread, fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, and even food convenience products.  the food price rise varies relatively across the country. The worst-hit by food inflation has been in Sokoto, Plateau, Gombe, Edo, and Kano states, with rates 17.12 percent, 16.99 percent, 16.96 percent, 16.71 percent, and 16.45 percent (year-on-year) respectively. At the same time, the states with the least food price rise were Bayelsa, Katsina, Bauchi, Nasarawa, and Ondo states with rates 11.89 percent, 13.04 percent, 13.04 percent, 13.5 percent, and 13.53 percent respectively (Nairametrics, 2020). 

Consequently, after the lockdown, the price of food items has consistently been on the increase. For instance, a paint bucket of Cassava flakes (Gaari) used to sell for 400 but now trades at 800,  a 100 percent price increase. A big bag of pepper which formerly sold for 7,000, now sells for 15,000, indicating a price increase of 114.3 percent. In the same vein, other commodities as well show price hikes. Products like onions, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, fish, rice, palm oil, and beans recording percentage increases of 30.77 percent, 150 percent, 127.3 percent, 9.52 percent, 5.84 percent, 22.73 percent, and 15.75 percent respectively (Nairametrics, 2020).

The Resolve of Nigerians to Survive the Pandemic
Meanwhile income and means of livelihood have been on the decline since the pandemic’s inception. Employers of labour including banks have laid off staff and introduced salary cuts. Entrepreneurs and business owners have experienced a slow business trend and hence lower income. How then could people be able to cope in this precarious circumstance? How are ends supposed to meet, when even the basic needs of life like food, cannot be provided? How could the populace manage to access the vaccines when they are available? The palliatives provided by the government at the inception of the lockdown in March 2020 have been long exhausted. The private sector interventions by well-meaning Nigerians and the private sector intercessions like CA-COVID are also depleted. Yet, the people are resilient and determined to survive. A dire need for an economic transformation is desired for Nigeria. What will become of the inequality gap for Nigeria? Will it increase?


‘Coronavirus traces found in Spanish sewge sample from Mar. 2019’ June 29, 2020. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/7119856/coronavirus-sewage-barcelona-march-2019/

Trading Economics 2020. Nigerian Food Inflation Forecast. https://tradingeconomics.com

Nairametrics 2020. nairametrics.com/2020/03/17/nigeria-inflation-rate-hits-12-2-as-food-index-rises/


Nairametrics 2020. Prices of food items jump across Lagos markets, as traders lament transport fare hike. https://nairametrics.com/2020/06/03/prices-of-food-items-jump-across-lagos-markets-as-traders-lament-transport-hike/

Folasade Adegboye, PhD
Guest Contributor
Department of Banking and Finance
Covenant University. Ota

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