Developing countries have employed a wide range of policies to control COVID-19 and relieve economic stress. These responses continue to evolve, and different actions targeting the same problem vary widely in approach and impact. For instance, to maintain food supplies, some countries have provided direct support to farmers, some have imposed food export bans, and some do both. In addition, many responses overlap and interact, so their cumulative impacts can be difficult to interpret in isolation. For example, borders may be kept open for transporting food, but stringent screening and quarantine measures may create significant delays that deter truckers from making the trip. Providing inputs to farmers may do little for food accessibility if markets are shut down or have severely limited operating hours.
The COVID-19 Policy Response (CPR) Portal tracks these actions systematically across many different domains, enabling governments, donors, and researchers to compare policy commonalities and differences.
The CPR focuses on nine distinct types of policy responses, providing information about cross-government institutional coordination, levels of pandemic foreign aid, and citizen compliance with control measures. As some governments gradually begin to ease their lockdowns, the CPR is also tracking where policy measures have been extended or phased out. It also highlights innovations aimed at keeping food systems and livelihoods resilient.
The CPR currently includes data from 26 countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe, and its scope will be regularly expanded as new data is added.
Thus far, it reveals several important trends, including five that may significantly impact food security:
Urban food traders have encountered some of the most severe pandemic restrictions. Closures of open air and wet markets for extended periods, or reductions in operating hours, have been extremely common; meanwhile, many cities have banned street vendors or moved them to stationary locations. In some settings, however, authorities have disinfected markets and allowed them to continue operating, or permitted them to open every other day. In Burkina Faso, where many markets were shuttered for three weeks, food aid distributions have even been specifically targeted to informal traders. Keeping these markets open in some form is critical for maintaining traders’ incomes and preventing them from sliding into poverty, and for the food security of the many urban residents who rely on them.
Innovations in contactless forms of payment and food sourcing are proving a major advantage in coping with the pandemic, especially for traders who would otherwise need to deal with lots of cash every day. The CPR shows that many countries are reducing or eliminating fees associated with mobile money and increasing allowable transaction amounts. In Senegal, the Ministry of Trade has even launched #JaaymaMburu (“Sell me bread” in Wolof), which allows customers to order bread via an online platform and get free delivery during the month of Ramadan in order to limit queuing in front of bakeries.
The data also show that governments are concentrating most heavily on protecting consumer livelihoods. One set of mechanisms includes fixing food prices, especially for cereals. For instance, Egypt set flour and bran prices at 3600 Egyptian pounds ($229) per ton; Mali set price limits on rice, bread, cooking oil, and sugar. Rwanda also has set fixed shop prices on staple foods. Because they focus on staples, these price controls (which bear some resemblance to those imposed during the food price crisis of 2007-2008) do less to cushion the cost of diets comprised of healthier and more diverse food options. Papua New Guinea is an exception, with mandated price controls for cereals and for eggs and fresh produce.
The CPR shows that policies directly aimed at supporting agriculture production are rare compared to other forms of economic assistance. Where implemented, approaches include expanding the provision of inputs and animal feed, removing price floors placed on agricultural exports, and postponing debt payments owed by farmers. Lower visibility but higher return investments, such as agricultural research and development or extension, will likely continue to be sidelined in a time of scarce resources. In the long run, this could erode the resilience of the sector to cope with challenges such as climate change and dietary diversity.
Finally, a unique feature of the CPR is that it shows the range of government actors involved in coordinating national responses to COVID-19. In most countries, these committees and task forces consist of health ministries working with a range of others, including commerce, industry, foreign affairs, and urban development. However, agriculture ministries are conspicuously absent. This could be due to the perception that the spread of COVID-19 is concentrated in cities and high-density areas, and that agricultural activities in rural settings are relatively safe. But this seems to be a missed opportunity to include a key sector whose reach is hardly confined to rural areas. The risk is that COVID-19 responses for other sectors may not consider possible impacts on agriculture and agri-food systems.
While policy responses to COVID-19 in some countries reflect a “copy and paste” bias, borrowing what other governments have done or resorting to common tools used in the past, other countries are charting their own course. By systematically tracking these varied responses, at both the national and subnational levels, the CPR is a resource for better understanding comparative policy processes and, in the long-term, for analyzing the combination of decisions that are most effective at protecting jobs, incomes, poverty, and food accessibility during times of crisis.
The CPR is led by IFPRI’s country and regional programs and supported by Michigan State University’s country programs, as well as by national institutions across the world. Funding provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the IFPRI-led CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM).
Danielle Resnick is a Senior Research Fellow with IFPRI's Development Strategy and Governance Division and leads IFPRI's Governance theme. At PIM, Dr. Resnick leads research cluster "Political Economy and Policy Processes" within Flagship 2: Economywide Factors Affecting Agricultural Growth and Rural Transformation. The analysis and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
This blog post first appeared as part of IFPRI's special series of analyses on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on national and global food and nutrition security, poverty, and development. See the full series here.
Photo: Vegetable market during COVID-19 crisis, Ankazomanga Antananarivo City. Crédit : E. Raboanaly/ILO
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