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Study Links COVID-19 Lockdowns and Food Insecurity in Kenya

FILE - A farmer gathers arid corn crops on his farm in Kwale, Kenya on January 27, 2009.
FILE - A farmer gathers arid corn crops on his farm in Kwale, Kenya on January 27, 2009.

A new study has found that the COVID-19 pandemic intensified food insecurity in Kenya.

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Kenya’s International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology have linked government restrictions to contain the spread of coronavirus with a sharp increase in food insecurity.

Food insecurity occurs when someone consistently lacks enough food for a healthy life.

Researchers conducted a text message survey in Kenya’s Kakamega County to measure food insecurity on a monthly basis before and after the restrictions began.

Matthias Huss, a senior researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, said the pandemic has exacerbated a persistent problem.

“Immediately following COVID-19 restrictions, the situation got worse,” Huss said. “In the first month after the restrictions, the number of food-insecure households had risen to 50 percent and that number has remained stable since.”

Kenyan authorities imposed travel restrictions in March, prohibiting large gatherings and closing schools due to COVID-19. Since then, many families are facing food shortages, especially in rural areas and urban informal settlements.

Many have resorted to skipping meals and reducing portion sizes so that the children in the family can eat, according to the study.

“With the restrictions, it has become very difficult to access foodstuff,” said Emily Khati, a 48-year-old maize farmer from Kakamega. “There’s no money these days and in my household we are buying food from the local market because we don’t have any stock of maize or beans.”

The study also found that farmers using storage technology such as airtight bags were able to better protect against food spoilage after COVID-19 lockdowns were implemented.

Storing food in hermetically sealed bags helped small households minimize post-harvest losses.

Without swift action to provide food supplies to the most affected regions, the U.N. says the COVID-19 pandemic will drive more than a quarter of a billion people into starvation.

“Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations, including many women and children face being pushed to the brink of starvation with the specter of famine a very real and dangerous possibility,” said David Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced last week that the country will begin to lift coronavirus lockdowns in a phased reopening.