“COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time for vulnerable communities across West Africa” - FAO

In this interview, we speak with Coumba Sow, FAO Resilience Coordinator for West Africa, about the COVID-19 pandemic and what it could mean for millions of people already grappling with hunger and conflict in West Africa.

West Africa and the Sahel region in particular have long been prone to droughts and food shortages, and over the past decade, rising insecurity. How is the situation now?

This is a complex region - hit by chronic hunger, insecurity, climate change, the threats of a Desert Locust outbreak, and now the pandemic. Year after year, five out of the ten countries at the bottom of the UN Development Index are in West Africa.

Right now, we are particularly concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Central Sahel - comprised of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Some four million people here are already facing extreme hunger and this could rise to 5.5 million people by August. Just to put it in perspective - by August, in Burkina Faso, over two million people could be facing extreme hunger, and at the worst time - as the lean season sets in and food becomes scarcer. This number is three times higher than last year during the same period.

Across West Africa, as of April, over 11 million people need immediate food assistance - mostly due to conflict. And this number will continue rising, potentially reaching 17 million during the lean season (June- August) if we don't respond fast.

Many people are not only hungry. They are also uprooted and have lost what they had. The ones I spoke to had the same story - of villages attacked; of family members killed or displaced; of homes or fields destroyed; of animals abandoned or killed.

As of now, some 1.2 million people have been displaced in Central Sahel. If the conflict persists, more people will suffer the same fate.

According to the 2020 Global Food Crisis report, increasing violence, displacements and disrupted agriculture and trade in tandem with adverse climate in West Africa and Sahel countries will worsen acute food insecurity conditions in many areas this year.

COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time for vulnerable communities across West Africa.


Who is most at risk from COVID-19?

First of all: children. Malnutrition rates in the Sahel are one of the highest in the world. Some 2.5 million children - more than a quarter in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger - suffer from severe and acute malnutrition.

As mothers and children are the hardest hit, in general, they will also suffer the most during  the pandemic.

Those who are already hungry, or already hungry and displaced, will be at extreme risk.

The key issue to highlight is that the pandemic is expanding during crucial months for this region - when people need to plant, move with their animals. Farmers need to be able to sell their current produces but also access fields and markets to prepare for the main 2020/2021 agricultural season. Pastoralists or nomadic herders need to move with their animals. Governments and humanitarian actors need to assist people requiring urgent food, nutritional and emergency support during the lean season.

For centuries, nomadic herders across the Sahel have moved hundreds of miles every year to find pasture for their herds. This is something they do each year, especially during April-May as pastures become drier.

Many Mauritanian herders, for example, head to Mali and Senegal in search of pasture.

But, as borders close, nomadic herders are no longer able to move in search of fodder and water or to trade - animals can be traded for other foods or essential items.

This can lead to herders losing their income as they can't sell their animals or buy what they need for them as well as potentially losing animals as some of them might not survive or might fall ill. When animals suffer, people suffer. When animals die or stop being a source of milk or meat, people go hungry. When animals are lost, so are people's livelihoods.

Farmers will also be affected by COVID-19 due to a lower supply of fertilizers and seeds, the closure of stores and markets, and reduced assistance.

The pandemic - if it spreads further - will translate into increasing threats: from more displacements to less and less access to basic social services, higher food prices, less food.

Are COVID-19's impacts on people's food security already being felt in West Africa?

Governments have taken measures such as physical distancing and closure of markets. These will result in market disruptions, whether for traders or buyers.

COVID-19's impacts are already seen in the pastoral areas. As most borders are closed, movements of herders and animals have been restricted.

Although the pandemic's impact on primary products' prices are not yet discernible, the fact that many people are buying main commodities in bulk could lead to a temporary increase in costs and shortages, which will be difficult to manage as/if production drops. Transport is also already affected, which will impact on food and products' supply.

How is FAO responding?

As most of West Africa is already affected by other complex crises, our first priority is to safeguard and maintain our current emergency response, especially activities supporting the upcoming agricultural campaign, which will help mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on food security.

Doing so will be particularly challenging given the operational difficulties due to the movement restrictions introduced by most countries. However, working closely with governments, the UN family, and partners, we are recalibrating and finding ways to deliver.

Our response across the region is only funded at 20 percent, however. We urge donors and partners to ensure that the ongoing emergencies, on top of COVID-19, are not forgotten.

In response to COVID-19, FAO has been collecting information and carrying out analysis, at regional and country level, on the pandemic's likely consequences on agriculture and food security, which will feed into a global data facility. This is informing the development of national and a regional strategies as well as country specific COVID-19 preparedness and response plans. Several actions in these plans are already being implemented.

In Burkina Faso, FAO is launching a program, thanks to support from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF)of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to provide immediate assistance to vulnerable households living in quarantine in urban and peri-urban areas so they can access healthy and nutritious food.

Read more...

Go back

Partners News

Local community engagement, strong policy signals and long-term financing key ingredients for forest restoration – WWF Panda

New report shows the long-term benefits of restoring forests outweigh the costs. The long-term benefits of restoring forests outweigh the costs, and this is a key factor in driving the implementation of forest landscape restoration (FLR) in many countries, a new WWF and IUFRO study finds.

Taking stock of three years of implementation of payments for environmental services in Côte d’Ivoire - EU REDD Facility

Payments for environmental services (PES) are at the heart of Côte d’Ivoire’s REDD+ and forest policies, which aim to restore and conserve the country’s forest cover up to 20% of the country’s land area. The EU REDD Facility has analysed the experience and lessons learnt from two innovative pilot projects, which tested several PES models aimed at restoring forest cover in cocoa landscapes. I have the pleasure of sharing with you the results of this analysis.

Getting the incentives right. Why partnership agreements should be at the heart of EU efforts to end deforestation – FERN

The publication comes on the heels of the European Parliament’s report An EU legal framework to halt and reverse EU-driven global deforestation, adopted on 22 October. Such a regulation will only be effective if accompanied by action to tackle the drivers of forest loss and human rights violations on the ground. Getting the incentives right suggests that the EU negotiate partnership agreements with major producers of forest risk commodities.

The november CBFP Flash News is available! Please check it out...

Read: CBFP Facilitator, Honorable Dr Christian Ruck, makes successful entrance into Congo Basin’s diplomatic and political scene; CBFP Facilitator, the Honourable Dr Christian Ruck, in audiences with high-ranking political leaders in Cameroon; 16 October 2020 – Implementation of N’Djamena Declaration in West Bloc gets major boost following visit of CBFP Facilitator of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Honourable Dr Christian Ruck…

PRESS RELEASE - OFAC launches its new analysis portal on Central African forest ecosystems

Yaoundé, Cameroon, 29 October 2020 - In order to encourage informed decision-making for sustainable forest management, conservation and responsible use of biodiversity in Central Africa, the Observatory of Central African Forests (OFAC), a technical unit of the Central African Forest Commission (COMIFAC), has set up a new analysis platform with key indicators of regional, national and local policy trends and their impacts on forest ecosystems.

CBFP technical and financial partners based in Kinshasa gather around CBFP Facilitator of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Honourable Dr Christian Ruck

Kinshasa, 12 October 2020 - A meeting of technical and financial partners based in Kinshasa was held at the Pullman Hotel in Kinshasa with close to twenty participants, including: Donors, Technical and financial partners, The private sector,  Research institutions.

16 October 2020 – Implementation of N’Djamena Declaration in West Bloc gets major boost following visit of CBFP Facilitator of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Honourable Dr Christian Ruck…

The meeting of the West Bloc Coordination Platform will hold on 26 January 2021. Such was the conclusion of the meeting of partners and countries of the West Bloc Coordination Platform for monitoring the implementation of the N’Djaména Declaration.

Two new programmes in Gabon – CAFI

Gabon is pursuing a low-carbon development strategy that optimizes economic goals while preserving forests and their ecosystems. The country has therefore committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% within 2025 through sustainable land-use. Tackling forest degradation, often a result of illegal logging, is essential to reducing Gabon's carbon emissions, as such degradation accounts for 50-80% of the country's total emissions.

Enhancing transparency and accountability – CAFI

GENEVA, 7 October 2020 – Revising the operating procedures of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI) is an endeavour that started earlier this year and has just received valuable recommendations from a new report by Transparency International (TI). Acknowledging the work achieved on transparency and integrity while identifying areas for improvement, the report released today by TI provides useful input into the process.

The brand Fair & Precious is celebrating its third anniversary and keeps on developing! - ATIBT

All ATIBT members, regardless of their status, are reminded that they can become partners of the brand simply as members of the Association.Created in November 2017 at the initiative of the International Tropical Timber Technical Association (ATIBT), and with the support of AFD and KfW, Fair&Precious is a collective and collaborative brand.

VPA FLEGT Gabon: UFIGA works for the resumption of vpa flegt negotiations between Gabon and the European Union - ATIBT

Within the framework of the FLEGT-Certification program of ATIBT, the UFIGA requested and directed the realization of a review of the situation of the VPA FLEGT process in Gabon in order to contribute to an effective resumption of negotiations of the VPA FLEGT process.

White Paper: Build back better in a post-COVID-19 world – Reducing future wildlife-borne spillover of disease to humans

This white paper aims to provide Northern and Southern Development partners and decision- makers with a better understanding of: a) why spillover of disease from wildlife to humans occurs, and why these zoonotic disease outbreaks can spread and become epidemics and pandemics such as COVID-19; b) what they can do to prevent, detect and respond to future spillover events, with a special focus on priority interventions at the human–wildlife–livestock interfaces.

Final Reports: United Nations Biodiversity Summit

The Summit focused on the theme “Urgent Action on Biodiversity for Sustainable Development,” to highlight the urgency of action at the highest levels in support of a post-2020 GBF that contributes to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) and places the global community on a path towards realizing the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity, “Living in harmony with nature.”

The Evolving War on Illegal Wildlife Trade - IISD

Illegal trafficking and unsustainable trade in wildlife are causing unprecedented declines in some species. They can also potentially lead to the spread of zoonoses, such as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. While the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora has been in force since 1975, there are growing calls to build a stand-alone international instrument to address illegal wildlife trade and crime.