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By Swati Malhotra and Rob Vos published in Mar 11 2021

 Photo credit: ILRI

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In recent decades, economic growth in Africa south of the Sahara has proven to be a double-edged sword. Higher incomes have helped increase food consumption and reduced rates of undernutrition, though the gains from growth have been unequal; about 20% of Africans, or more than 250 million people, still go to bed hungry every day. At the same time, the prevalence of overweight and obesity is on the rise, in part because a significant share of increased food demand has gone into processed and ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages. As a result, the region faces a massive problem of a double burden of malnutrition.

The emergence of the double burden with rapid changes in African food markets

A recent study led by Thomas Reardon and Barry Popkin, and involving IFPRI researchers Bart Minten and Rob Vos and others, associates the emergence of the double burden with rapid changes in African food markets. With rapid urbanization, higher incomes, and employment opportunities for women, demand for convenient (processed) foods is expanding rapidly and supply chains have transformed—shifting production towards cheap processed foods and distribution through supermarkets and local convenience stores, mostly in urban areas.

Consumption of processed and ultra-processed food

Consumption of processed and ultra-processed food is also on the rise in Africa’s rural areas, driven, among other things, by mechanization of farm production, increased incomes from non-farm employment, and an associated increase in the opportunity cost of time and convenience. Many of the processed foods are high in sugar, salt, saturated fats and/or preservatives and thus contribute to overweight and the spread of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Meanwhile, those left behind in economic development, including many smallholders and landless in rural areas affected by weather shocks and conflict, also face continued food insecurity and high rates of child stunting and wasting.

The rise in demand for processed foods

The rise in demand for processed foods has come on the back of rapid expansion of food processing and modern distribution and packaging systems in food supply chains, thanks to the proliferation of both small- and medium enterprises (SMEs) and large domestic and foreign food companies. These have also stimulated demand for (ultra-)processed foods through aggressive marketing campaigns and via the lower cost of such foods achieved through investments in economies of scale. Many of the larger players in Africa’s food market have expanded through foreign direct investment, such as from Indonesia’s Indofood, providing package snacks and ready-to-eat products like Indomie ramen noodles in Nigeria.

The emergence of the processed food sector

The emergence of the processed food sector has both positive and negative impacts. On the upside, the processed foods revolution is providing convenience to consumers in general, but especially for women, and is also generating significant numbers of new jobs, increasingly for women, along food supply chains. SMEs involved in processing, wholesale, transportation, and retail currently employ an estimated 20% of the rural and 25% of the urban workforces in Africa. Also, increased supply of some processed foods (like processed and packaged milk) has improved food safety and helped diversify diets, reducing undernourishment and micronutrient deficiency. On the downside, however, as already mentioned, the increased consumption of ultra-processed food has substantially pushed up the prevalence of overweight and obesity, increasing health risks in the form of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.


Reversing trends that have been ongoing for decades will not be easy. Yet, the study suggests a number of interventions that have proven effective in several contexts. Cash transfers and subsidies for school feeding and scaling up nutrition-sensitive agriculture programs are direct ways to help the poor and reduce undernourishment in a targeted manner. Targeted public investments in public infrastructure (roads, electricity, storage capacity, etc.) will help improve access to markets for poor producers, integrate value chains and enhance food safety, generating better incomes and employment opportunities for poor farmers and rural workers. Such measures will also increase the availability and affordability of both fresh and processed foods. Further complementary measures will be needed to counter food system improvements that encourage the consumption of unhealthy processed foods. Fiscal policies and regulations, such as sugar taxes and the labeling of unhealthy foods, have been successfully applied to reduce demand for unhealthy ultra-processed foods. Chile, for instance, successfully reduced consumption by levying taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and making front-of-package warning labels mandatory.

Africa's challenges

Replicating such policies in Africa may be challenging, as they may face strong opposition from large food companies with strong market power, and governments may lack the administrative capacities to implement them. In addition, certain measures, such as excise taxes on unhealthy products may be difficult to implement in contexts where processing and retail sectors are fragmented and dominated by informal sector SMEs, as is the case in Africa south of the Sahara. Chile’s experience with nutrient profiling of food items through highly visible front-of-package labeling could thus be a more feasible option for governments in Africa to consider. They could also learn from Chile’s and Mexico’s bans on unhealthy foods distributed in schools, and strongly regulate advertisements for (ultra-)processed foods. Such interventions will need to be tailored to the specific conditions of countries in Africa, and its political as well as industrial landscape. Failing to address Africa’s growing double malnutrition burden, however, will come at an enormous cost to health and human capital, which will over time will lead to significant economic setbacks.



By Sara Gustafson published in Dec 22 2020

 Photo credit: The CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM)


While global food systems have remained generally resilient to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, regional and local systems, especially in food-deficit countries, face growing challenges. These include diminished purchasing power, disruptions to domestic supply chains, and higher food import costs due to rising global prices, according to the latest AMIS Market Monitor. Understanding how COVID-19 is affecting local and global food value chains is key in establishing effective policy responses to mitigate the harmful impacts of the ongoing public health crisis. A recent webinar on COVID-19 risk, co-organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) and Food Security Portal, examined the results of several recent studies on how various food value chains are responding to COVID-19.


The event was moderated by Nicholas Minot, Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Division Director of IFPRI’s Markets, Trade and Institutions Division, as well as co-leader of PIM’s research on Inclusive and Efficient Value Chains.

Food consumption and food security during the pandemic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The first speaker was Kalle Hirvonen (IFPRI), who discussed food consumption and food security during the pandemic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Despite Ethiopia’s large population, the country has seen remarkably low rates of COVID-19 infection. Rapid government action, including social distancing mandates and expansion of social safety nets, has contributed significantly to Ethiopia’s containment of the virus. Ethiopia never went into a full lockdown, which Hirvonen suggests may explain the study’s positive findings on food security.

 The study itself utilized household surveys which began before the outbreak of COVID-19 and continued via phone through August 2020.  The surveys captured self-reported changes in income and food and nutrition security among 600 households in the capital city of Addis Ababa. More than 50 percent of respondents reported experiencing a loss in income during the study period, with the poorest households seeing the highest losses. However, households’ dietary diversity scores saw virtually no change as a result of the pandemic.


 “Even the poorest households in Addis are consuming a much more diverse diet than we usually see in rural areas,” Hirvonen said.


 The study also found that while there was no significant change in households’ food budgets or total calorie consumption, what households were eating did shift during the pandemic. Consumption of more expensive, perishable fruits and vegetables fell between September 2019 and August 2020. At the same time, consumption of cheaper staple foods rose. This finding held true regardless of whether households reported experiencing job or income loss.


Overall, Hirvonen concluded, the findings suggest that swift government response and the populations’ high rates of adherence to COVID-19 prevention measures helped Ethiopia avoid the full lockdown scenario seen in many other countries. This may have prevented disruptions to local food supply chains and helped Ethioipa’s agricultural systems remain resilient to COVID-19.



Responses by India’s food and agriculture supply chains to the country’s strict lockdown measures

Next, Sudha Narayanan (Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research) highlighted responses by India’s food and agriculture supply chains to the country’s strict lockdown measures.

The government of India imposed a nationwide lockdown fairly early on in the pandemic but did so in a sudden and dramatic fashion that had an immediate negative impact on food and agricultural value chains. Fishermen who went out to sea one day returned the next day to find that they could not sell their catch because markets had been closed. Truckers transporting food across the country could no longer cross state lines and often simply abandoned their deliveries. Migrant workers could no longer travel, leading to agricultural labor shortages in rural areas.


 “It was . . . cataclysmic in terms of impacts on livelihoods,” Narayanan said.


The transportation disruption and labor shortages caused by the lockdown resulted in declines in both supply and demand for food and agriculture products. These challenges have increased both the risks and the costs associated with supply chain operations. Market arrivals for 40 studied food crops collapsed, and the prices farmers received for their goods fell sharply. At the same time, consumer food prices increased significantly in urban areas. These supply chain frictions continued through the summer, even after the strictest lockdown measures were lifted.


Narayanan wrapped up with several important conclusions. First, the government plays an important role in food availability and access in India. The government procures a large volume of staple foods, specifically grains, for distribution through social safety net systems; these programs helped to keep cereal and pulse prices somewhat stable throughout the months of lockdown. Second, informal food sales also proved to be crucial during this period, helping both laborers and consumers be more resilient to supply chain disruptions. However, despite these somewhat functional channels, overall food expenditures fell by 12 percent between March and July. While producer prices have recovered generally, inflation in food and agriculture markets continues to rise. 



“We have both a health crisis and an economic crisis that are ongoing and we have to watch carefully to see how this pans out further one,” Narayanan concluded.

Findings on the impact of COVID-19 on Nigeria’s critical fish sector

The final speaker was Ben Belton (WorldFish / Michigan State University). Belton presented findings on the impact of COVID-19 on Nigeria’s critical fish sector. The study utilized high-frequency phone surveys that sought to track data related to fish production, prices, producers’ access to various inputs, and assistance provided to the sector.

The surveys identified several short-term effects of Nigeria’s COVID-19 lockdown measures (defined as lasting 3-4 months), namely difficulty buying or selling fish and related products and difficulty accessing transportation for fish products. The impacts of the lockdown on fish value chain actors’ access to inputs lasted slightly longer, while demand for fish and fish products has seen the longest lasting consequences and has not yet fully recovered from Nigeria’s lockdown measures. Thus, there has been a lagged effect following the initial shock.


Employment in the fish sector dipped significantly following the outbreak of COVID-19 and the start of Nigeria’s lockdown. Employees were often unable to get to work due to travel limitations and disruptions to public transportation; at the same time, reduced sales led many firms in the fish sector to suspend their operations and hire fewer laborers.


Belton highlighted that the challenges faced by Nigeria’s fish sector have shifted throughout the study period. During the early spring, lockdown measures and movement restrictions formed the most substantial challenges to the sector’s functioning. By September, however, the most critical challenge facing fish value chain actors were input shortages and subsequent skyrocketing input prices. This again highlights the lagged effect of the outbreak of COVID-19.


Importantly, the fish value chain received very little assistance during the pandemic: less than 2 percent of respondents in the April survey reported receiving any help. Additionally, the bulk of the assistance that fisheries did receive was through informal channels (family and friends) rather than through government programs or NGOs.


“We see clearly that government safety nets were not widely implemented,” Belton emphasized. “Our recommendations then are addressing these points in future crisis situations.”



The seminar concluded with a Q&A session and closing remarks from Frank Place (PIM Director), who highlighted the importance of the studies covered by the webinar.

“Impacts in these countries will have regional and global spillovers,” Place concluded, “so there’s keen interest in understanding the effects of COVID-19 and government responses in these three examples.”


Beyond the business case for agricultural value chain development: An economywide approach applied to Egypt

This paper goes beyond the “business” case for agricultural value chain development and presents an economy-wide framework to make the “development” case. We show that there are several key transmission channels that determine the economy-wide impacts of promoting various value chains, including forward and backward economic linkages, price responses, and net employment effects. These impacts all matter for household incomes, poverty, and dietary diversity.

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