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Virus choking off supply of what Africa needs most: Food

Virus choking off supply of what Africa needs most: Food
HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) - In a pre-dawn raid in food-starved Zimbabwe, police enforcing a coronavirus lockdown confiscated and destroyed 3 tons of fresh fruit and vegetables by setting fire to it. Wielding batons, they scattered a group of rural farmers who had traveled overnight, breaking restrictions on movement to bring the precious produce to one of the country´s busiest markets.
The food burned as the farmers went home empty-handed, a stupefying moment for a country and a continent where food is in critically short supply.
It was an extreme example of how lockdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus may be choking Africa's already-vulnerable food supply.
Lockdowns in at least 33 of Africa´s 54 countries have blocked farmers from getting food to markets and threatened deliveries of food assistance to rural populations. Many informal markets where millions buy their food are shut.
About one in every five people in Africa, nearly 250 million, already didn´t have enough food before the virus outbreak, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. A quarter of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished.
"This is double any other region," said Sean Granville-Ross, director for Africa at the aid agency Mercy Corps. "With lockdowns, border closures and the ability to access food curtailed, the impact of COVID-19 on Africa could be like nothing we have seen before."
FILE - In this March 24, 2020, file photo, a street trader sells cabbages by the side of the road, after the government ordered the closure of the main open air market, in the Mathare slum, or informal settlement, of Nairobi, Kenya. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)
FILE - In this March 24, 2020, file photo, a street trader sells cabbages by the side of the road, after the government ordered the closure of the main open air market, in the Mathare slum, or informal settlement, of Nairobi, Kenya. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)
Lockdowns without provisions to help the poor "may affect us very, very much," said Lola Castro, regional director in southern Africa for the U.N. World Food Program.
The Kibera slum in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, is at a breaking point already. Last week, thousands of desperate people scrambled for food aid at a distribution point, causing a stampede.
The World Food Program was already feeding millions in Africa, mainly rural people, due to a myriad of disasters: Floods, drought. armed conflict, government failures, even plagues of locusts. The pandemic has added another layer of hardship.
Take Sudan, where restrictions to combat the virus are hampering aid workers from reaching some of the 9.2 million people in need, according to the U.N.
The most severe drought in decades is already threatening about 45 million people with hunger across southern Africa, where farmers are still recovering from two devastating cyclones that battered Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi last year.
Somalia, one of the world´s most fragile countries, is struggling to get food to people living in extremist-controlled areas. Two months ago it declared a national emergency over an outbreak of desert locusts that devoured tens of thousands of hectares of crops and pastures. That left 20 million people with dire food shortages in East Africa. Now t he locusts are back, more of them this time.
In West Africa´s Sahel region, nearly 30 million are struggling to find food, said Granville-Ross of Mercy Corps.
On top of these problems, the World Bank said the virus could create "a severe food security crisis in Africa."
Among those at risk are millions of children normally fed through WFP's school meals program. A few weeks after the virus crept into Africa, so many schools have been closed that 65 million children are now missing out on meals, WFP told The Associated Press.
For many Africans, the immediate concern is not the virus - it´s surviving the lockdowns.
"Most Africans work in the informal sector and need to go out every day," World Health Organization Africa regional chief Matshidiso Moeti said. "I think above all of access to food."
The virus has been slow to spread in Africa, which has not yet experienced the drastic number of cases and deaths witnessed in parts of Europe, Asia and the United States. The continent of nearly 1.3 billion people has reported just over 15,000 cases and 815 deaths, although those figures may be vastly under-reported.
But while direct casualties are still relatively low, the "large majority" of economies at risk from the pandemic are in Africa, according to WFP.
"For many poor countries, the economic consequences will be more devastating than the disease itself," said WFP. British charity Oxfam warned that if Africa doesn´t get help, the fight against poverty could be set back "by as much as 30 years."
Ordinary Africans can´t expect much help from their governments, many of which are already laboring with huge debts and low foreign currency reserves. Falling global oil and mineral prices mean that Africa's exports are worth less now.
Some are making drastic decisions.
In a street in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, Eugene Wadema trudges along, searching for transport to get back to her rural home 300 kilometers (186 miles) away.
In the days before the lockdown, food prices shot up at a rate many Zimbabweans, already hammered by a ruined economy and the world's second-highest inflation rate, just couldn´t handle.
"Here, the price of a pack of potatoes is now $40. It was $15 yesterday," the 23-year-old Wadema said. She said her rural homeland is one of the lucky ones still receiving food aid but she doesn't know h.ow long it will last.
Behind her, her husband holds a small child. Two other young children - 5-year-old twins - try to keep up as they carry bags with clothes and blankets. But there's no food for the journey.
"If we had food we wouldn't be going," Wadema said.
___
Associated Press writer Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.
FILE - In this March 30, 2020, file photo, a municipal worker sprays disinfectant in the Grand Market of Dakar, Senegal in an attempt to halt the spread of the new coronavirus. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui, File)
FILE - In this March 30, 2020, file photo, a municipal worker sprays disinfectant in the Grand Market of Dakar, Senegal in an attempt to halt the spread of the new coronavirus. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui, File)
FILE - In this March 26, 2020, file photo, women sell bananas in the street, after traders in markets were prohibited from selling any non-food items in an attempt to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, in Kampala, Uganda. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi, File)
FILE - In this March 26, 2020, file photo, women sell bananas in the street, after traders in markets were prohibited from selling any non-food items in an attempt to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, in Kampala, Uganda. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi, File)
FILE - In this April 10, 2020, file photo, residents desperate for a planned distribution of food for those suffering under Kenya's coronavirus-related movement restrictions push through a gate and create a stampede, causing police to fire tear gas and leaving several injured, at a district office in the Kibera slum, or informal settlement, of Nairobi, Kenya. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi, File)
FILE - In this March 26, 2020, file photo, people walk past closed street stalls and shops due to a government ban on the operation of non-essential businesses and markets to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, in Lagos, Nigeria. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)
FILE - In this April 4, 2020, file photo, a member of the country's armed forces, the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF), helps to distribute food to people affected by the lockdown measures aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus, in the Bwaise suburb of the capital Kampala, Uganda. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi, File)
FILE - In this April 4, 2020, file photo, a member of the country's armed forces, the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF), helps to distribute food to people affected by the lockdown measures aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus, in the Bwaise suburb of the capital Kampala, Uganda. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi, File)
FILE - In this April 13, 2020, file photo, a woman buys tomatoes and onions from street sellers in Lagos, Nigeria. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)
FILE - In this April 4, 2020, file photo, a member of the country's armed forces, the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF), helps to distribute food to people affected by the lockdown measures aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus, in the Bwaise suburb of the capital Kampala, Uganda. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Ronald Kabuubi, File)
FILE - In this April 13, 2020, file photo, a woman buys tomatoes and onions from street sellers in Lagos, Nigeria. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)
FILE - In this April 13, 2020, file photo, a woman buys tomatoes and onions from street sellers in Lagos, Nigeria. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)
FILE - In this April 13, 2020, file photo, people shop at a roadside market with few customers in Lagos, Nigeria. Lockdowns in Africa limiting the movement of people in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus are threatening to choke off supplies of what the continent needs the most: Food. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba, File)
An armed soldier turns away a vehicle during lockdown in Harare, Zimbabwe Monday, April 13, 2020. Zimbabwe is under lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
Homeless recyclers and other destitute people, some of whom said they have not eaten in three days, are asked to practice social distancing by police as they lineup in a Johannesburg park, waiting to receive food baskets from private donors, Thursday, April 9, 2020.  Because of South Africa's imposed lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, many people who don't have savings and are unable to work are not able to buy food. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Homeless recyclers and other destitute people, some of whom said they have not eaten in three days, are asked to practice social distancing by police as they lineup in a Johannesburg park, waiting to receive food baskets from private donors, Thursday, April 9, 2020. Because of South Africa's imposed lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19, many people who don't have savings and are unable to work are not able to buy food. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

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