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Food security worries most Kenyans during Covid-19 pandemic


A market in Nyeri on April 11, 2020. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

An estimated 86 percent of Kenyans are worried about their food security amid the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, a new poll has shown, signalling what they prefer to be the focus of the agencies involved in taming the effects of the disease.

A survey report released by GeoPoll on Monday shows that most Kenyans are already concerned about having enough to eat with an average 80 percent reported that within the seven days before the survey they had been worried about not having enough food to eat due to lack of money or other resources. This figure was highest in the DRC at 88 percent, Rwanda (87), Kenya (86), and Uganda (86).

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has already warned of an impending food crisis if actions are not taken to protect supply chains and distribute food to vulnerable populations.

Approximately 1.3 million people in Kenya are currently facing crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity, representing a decline from the estimated 2.6 million people in need of assistance in late 2019, according to the Kenya food security steering group's 2019 short rains assessment. However, this figure is estimated to increase as the pandemic penetrates the country’s food baskets in rural areas.

The GeoPoll indicate that there is a significant shift in market operability, as most governments have employed stricter preventive measures such as social distancing, hand washing, wearing face masks, and hand sanitisers, failure, some markets have faced partial or total shutdown denting food supply chains. Dust-to-dawn curfew too, though vital, has worsened the situation.

The study conducted in 12 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in April, including Kenya indicate that only 20 percent overall said that all of the markets or stores where they usually purchase food are open, with the largest group, 36 percent, reporting that some markets are open.

Interestingly, respondents are almost evenly split on changes to their food purchasing location, with 49 percent saying they have not changed where they purchase food, and 51 percent saying they have changed their food purchasing locations. This is in line with the findings that some markets are still open. Of those who have changed their food-purchasing location, most are now going to supermarkets.

Further, 60 percent say they are shopping for food less often than usual, and 42 percent say they are buying bigger pack sizes when they do shop for food.

Of the 80 percent who reported they were worried about having enough food to eat, the majority of 72 percent said they would switch to an alternative brand that is cheaper rather than purchasing their usual one.


In Africa, the level of concern over the coronavirus outbreak is high in all countries studied, with 72 percent overall reporting that they are ‘very concerned’ over Covid-19. A slightly lower percentage overall, 63 percent, believe that they or their families are at risk of contracting the disease, with this percentage being lowest in Rwanda and Benin, and highest in Mozambique and Zambia, according to the report.

“The differences between perceptions of risk by country are likely due to the measures being taken by individual governments,” it said. Rwanda was the first nation in Africa to be placed on lockdown to prevent the virus’ spread, and was also successful at preventing the spread of Ebola in 2019, while as recently as April 7, Zambia’s government had rejected calls for a countrywide lockdown.

The long-term economic impact of coronavirus is also a concern across Africa, with the World Bank warning that sub-Saharan Africa is likely to experience its first recession in 25 years due to the pandemic.

Countries such as South Africa and Kenya were already experiencing weak economies before the coronavirus spread, and will be hit hard by the restrictions and trickle-down effects related to Covid-19.

The economic effects of Covid-19 will be felt even harder in these emerging economies due to their reliance on informal trade and exports of commodities that are falling in value.

This study found that populations are aware of the looming economic crisis, with 71 percent stating that they are very concerned about the economic effects of coronavirus.

The impacts are highest in Mozambique and Rwanda. Additionally, 26 percent listed economic impacts as their biggest concern of the outbreak, only slightly behind the 27 percent who state that contracting the disease themselves is their biggest concern.

“Covid-19 is unlike other crises as it has led to countrywide shutdowns across the globe and a sharp decline in international travel. While there were lockdowns during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the widespread and prolonged nature of the current restrictions is unprecedented, and it is these preventive measures that are a major focus of many groups,” says the study.

In countries such as the ones studied in sub-Saharan Africa, large informal settlements, a reliance on public transit and difficulties working from home make social distancing measures unsustainable at best.


GeoPoll examined self-quarantining habits and other measures and found that 96 percent reported they had taken measures to prevent themselves from contracting coronavirus.

Increasing hygiene, which would include an increase in handwashing, was the most common measure being taken, with 54 percent total saying they had increased hygiene. Half are avoiding public places, one of the main culprits for spreading a highly-transmissible disease, but just 20 percent report that they are working from home and 18 percent are avoiding public transport.

It found that, of the sample reached, handwashing frequency was quite high, with 56 percent reporting that they are washing their hands with soap and water more than five times a day. Just five percent total report that they are washing their hands zero times per day.

While there are mixed statistics on handwashing behaviours in Sub-Saharan Africa, often dependent on availability of water and soap, there have been efforts to install handwashing stations in vulnerable areas such as the Kibera slums in Kenya.

The study also looked specifically at self-quarantining, when an individual or family stays at home except for essential tasks such as purchasing food or seeking medical care. In total we found that a quite high percentage, 70 percent, say they are self-quarantining. However, this varies by country.

The study has shown that 54 percent has increased hygiene, 50 percent are avoiding public places, 18 percent are avoiding public transit and 20 percent are working from home.

The GeoPoll found that 58 percent of respondents would go to a hospital if they had mild coronavirus symptoms, while only 12 percent said they would stay home.

This figure changes by country with 30 percent of those in Rwanda, 19 percent of those in South Africa, and 21 percent Ghana saying they would stay home, while in Tanzania 82 percent and Kenya 77 percent indicated they would go to the hospital.

“This may indicate differing communications and treatment recommendations by country,” according to the report.