Governments in sub-Saharan Africa have responded swiftly to contain the food-security crisis triggered by the pandemic. Togo transferred cash directly to families to buy food. The gardener provided free animal feed to farmers and waived electricity and water bills of the poorest families from May to June.
These critical emergency measures do not address the bigger threat – the long-term disruption of food supply chains. As the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in a June 9 briefing, the world faces an impending food crisis on a scale that has not been seen for 50 years.
UN agencies reported on 13 July that the number of malnourished people worldwide could add 83 million to 132 million people. A survey in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa found that 81% of all respondents are concerned about not having enough food (go.nature.com/3erk8yg).
On top of another crisis comes. In Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda, farmers have been battling an invasion of desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) since 2019 – the worst swarm seen in more than 70 years (go.nature.com/2ogdyr9). Tens of billions of insects stand to destroy the livelihoods of about 10% of farmers worldwide.
The overall scale of the need for emergency assistance and immediate intervention is enormous. Guterres has sought more than US$200 billion for Africa as part of a comprehensive global response package1.
Building a more resilient food system depends on many things, among them real- and near-time agricultural data. Such data should meet the needs of communities. Equally important is an infrastructure that can synthesize these data to help policymakers with limited resources maximize the impact of interventions and targeted research.
For example, Burkina Faso purchased agricultural supplies worth $53 million (www.oecd.org/country-policy-tracker/) and temporarily halted seed exports to neighboring regions so that farmers would have access to planting for next year’s crop. be sufficient for (personal communication, Government of Burkina Faso). Although the effects of these policy decisions are felt immediately by neighboring countries, there is no systematic data collection of seed flows and seed balances that nations can turn to for scenario planning.
Agriculture ministers across Africa have committed to careful monitoring and evaluation of the food and agriculture system as the pandemic rages on. Details remain scarce. Although the FAO and other institutions support sub-Saharan governments in the collection of data on crop production, trade, input use and prices, it is primarily annual information at the aggregate level.
We call on the research community, science funders and philanthropists to help governments in sub-Saharan Africa rapidly scale up real-time data collection and evaluation in agriculture in response to social and economic collapse and maintain this potential over the long term. urge. This is the only way to ensure that evidence-based decisions at the national and international levels can provide food to those in need.
lack of data
Half of the world’s extremely poor – about 400 million people – live in sub-Saharan Africa. Most live in rural areas and work in agriculture. Eighty percent of the agricultural land in this area is managed by small farmers. (The proposed FAO definition of these small-scale food producers are those who fall in the bottom 40% of the distribution in terms of both land size and revenue for their country.) Many live in remote locations that are difficult to reach.
Each family consists of a variety of small plots and some livestock. Farms are not equipped with modern technology, such as remote sensors to monitor plant growth or storage facilities to keep crops dry and fresh until they can be sold. Generally, the economic performance of farms and the well-being of farmers are monitored annually, through individual surveys coordinated by multinational organizations such as the World Bank and the FAO. The need for social distancing has stymied individual annual surveys.
Mobile-phone technology can help collect real-time data through cheap and flexible surveys. They are a much needed lifeline between rural communities, governments and international agencies for immediate and dynamic data gathering.
Survey questionnaires are now being administered via mobile phones to farmers in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda by the World Bank’s Standard of Living Measurement Study – Integrated Survey on Agriculture (go.nature.com/3tbjw8k) . These studies track whether staple foods are eliminated in the household, and other socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.