Skip to main content

Food security deteriorates with COVID-19 restrictions and persistent price increases

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Ethiopia
  • April 2020
Food security deteriorates with COVID-19 restrictions and persistent price increases

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Partner
    Key Messages
    • Food security outcomes are expected to worsen across many central and eastern parts of the country due to the combined effects of COVID-19 related economic impacts, persistent price increases, the high inflation rate, desert locusts and other pest infestations, and weather shocks. Currently, most of the affected areas are expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Moreover, poor households in urban areas who have lost income associated with COVID-19 restrictions are expected to face increased difficulty meeting their non-food and in some cases their food needs. The population experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes is expected to peak from June to September, as this is the lean season in meher-dependent areas, where the largest proportion of the population lives.

    • To date, the performance of belg rainfall has been mixed with favorable conditions in the southern and eastern half of SNNPR and adjoining areas of western Oromia. However, in eastern and southern Tigray, eastern Amhara as well as northern Afar seasonal rainfall was erratic, delayed in onset, and slightly below-average. As a result, belg planting was delayed in these areas and in some cases, farmers were deterred from planting despite heavy April rainfall. Whereas, the favorable gu/genna rains have supported good production prospects for pastoral and agropastoral communities of Somali and southern Oromia.

    • The government declared a state of emergency in early April and imposed some travel restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 across the country. Despite these efforts, the number of cases continues to increase, while movement restrictions have limited economic activity and livelihood options in some areas, especially among urban households and migratory labor dependent households. In many cases, urban unskilled daily laborers are returning to their rural home areas, which increases competition for local unskilled labor income earning opportunities. As a result, daily rates for casual and informal labor are expected to decrease, reducing cash income for poorer rural households, many of who rely on these income sources after food stocks from their harvests run out. As the lean season approaches in crop production areas, this labor forms an increasingly crucial source of cash income.


    On March 13, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported. Three days later, the government closed schools, banned all public gatherings, and recommended social distancing. On April 8, the government declared a State of Emergency. While these actions are expected to slow the spread of COVID-19, they have had negative effects on the economy and livelihoods of many households across the country, especially households reliant on income in the informal economy. In late March, the Government of Tigray Region declared a state of emergency for the region, which essentially closed main markets; although these restrictions have since been loosened, with inter-state movement having resumed, market activities remain generally below average.

    Despite the loosening of inter-regional movement restrictions in mid-April, and the resumption of public transportation to 50 percent of normal capacity, movement of people and supply chains for staple foods are functioning at below normal levels. Additionally, insecurity in some areas is also restricting the movement of goods. Specifically, there is a reduction in trade from western surplus producing areas of the country to eastern deficit producing areas as well as from market centers to deficit producing areas within regions. Moreover, livestock, especially camel and cattle, exports have decreased, now taking place at below average levels. In the case of Tigray Region, transportation only occurs in the presence of police escorts, with drivers staying in approved hotels, which is a deterrent for transporting goods, especially across regional borders. 

    While belg production is not a significant portion of annual national production, it is an important source for the associated food and labor income from agriculture activities. Belg rainfall started on time in southern and southwestern parts of the country, but was slightly delayed in most central and northern belg-receiving areas, with below average rainfall occurring in these areas through mid-April 2020. On the other hand, due to widespread heavy rainfall since mid-April, cumulative rainfall as of April 25 is near- to above-average in belg receiving areas of Amhara, Oromia, and localized areas of Tigray, and above-average across SNNPR (Figure 1). Land preparation and planting occurred as normal and continues in southern belg areas, where crops are in the vegetative state. Planting and crop development are below normal in belg receiving areas of Amhara, Oromia, and Tigray due to the late onset of the seasonal rainfall.  

    The 2020 genna rains, which started in late February/early March over southern Oromia and adjoining portions of eastern SNNPR, have been average to above average. Despite the slight delay in the start of gu rainfall in late-April across most of Somali Region, cumulative rainfall through late-April has been above-average. The favorable rainfall across pastoral and agropastoral, southern and southeastern areas has led to the regeneration of pasture and water sources (Figure 2). However, vegetation conditions remain below the median in some areas, especially over northeastern parts of the country, due to the delayed and below-normal rainfall. Recent heavy seasonal rainfall is likely to lead to improvements in vegetation conditions across much of SNNPR and Oromia. Additionally, heavy April rainfall led to flash flooding in Dire Dawa, South and North Omo zones of Gamo among other areas. The flooding risk continues in riverine areas in SNNPR, Dire Dawa, and along the Shabelle River basin in Somali Region.

    As a result of favorable 2019 deyr and current gu rainfall, livestock are in very good condition in south and southeastern pastoral areas of the country. On the other hand, in parts of northern Afar, along the Tekeze River basin of Tigray and Amhara, consecutive poor rainy seasons in 2019 have resulted in slightly below normal livestock body conditions. In general, livestock production and productivity are increasing in line with seasonal expectations, with improved access to pasture across the country, with noted exceptions in the Tekeze catchment areas of Waghimera Zone of Amhara, northern Afar, and eastern Tigray bordering northern Afar. Furthermore, livestock productivity while favorable per animal in southern and southeastern pastoral areas of Somali region and lowlands of Guji, Borena, and Bale areas in Oromia is below normal due to below-average herd sizes as households continue to recover from the 2016/2017 drought.

    According to FAO, the desert locust upsurge continues to threaten crops, with mature swarms present in southern SNNPR, Oromia, and northern Amhara, and hopper bands present in Dire Dawa, and other isolated parts of the country. Additionally, swarms are crossing the Somalia border into northern areas of Somali region. January to March are typical dry months, theupsurge did not cause extensive damage on staple food crops as there were limited crops and swarms at this time; however, considerable damage was reported to irrigated vegetables (cabbage, tomatoes) and early planted seasonal crops such as sweet potatoes and maize. According to key informants, in early April, large hopper bands were invading parts of eastern Afar, along the Ethiopia-Djibouti border, as well as northern Amhara. Moreover, the zonal agricultural offices of South Omo and Konso reported that nearly 150,000 hectares of maize, sorghum, and haricot beans, along with 33,000 hectares of grazing land, were completely damaged. There were also reports in March of Fall Armyworm in Konso Zone, which damaged about 1,000 hectares of belg crops. Despite the losses associated with desert locusts and other pests at the start of the belg, many farmers were able to replant, although the total area planted is still below average.

    Aerial and ground control measures are ongoing to limit the spread of desert locusts. In March 2020, FAO reported that almost 40,000 hectares of land were treated for desert locusts, down from slightly over 50,000 hectares in February. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, locust control measures have been difficult to scale up.  Additionally, pesticide manufacturing companies are lowering output due to limitations on business function.

    Supplies of staple food crops in primary market centers are decreasing notably in deficit eastern parts of the country due to movement restrictions. Rural households are having difficulty accessing urban markets in some central and western areas of the country. Increasing inflation in both food and non-food commodities is also contributing to high staple food prices.  As a result, staple food prices in many local markets are near or at their highest levels in the last year and are above the five-year average. Maize prices in Hosanna and Jimma markets are 35 and 45 percent higher than the same time last year and 66 and 76 percent higher than the five-year average, respectively (Figure 3). Average teff prices have also increased over the last three months with Dessie market seeing especially high price hikes, increasing by about 11 percent in March compared to February (Figure 4).  

    Since mid-April, large-scale movements of people from urban to rural areas were reported, as members of many poorer households who were working in urban areas, engaged in casual labor (such as construction, road building or domestic labor) or petty trade, are no longer able to find work due to COVID-19 restrictions. Additionally, some poor populations that typically migrate to larger farms for agriculture labor, especially from Amhara and SNNPR, are traveling back to their homes due to fears of COVID-19. The increased population in rural areas not only increases consumption requirements at the household level, but it also puts pressure on limited local labor markets, which is likely to result in reduced daily wage rates due to high competition. Furthermore, many households, have lost their income as movement restrictions are impacting both the formal and informal sectors. International and local remittances have also decreased across the country, which is further limiting household income.

    Malnutrition remains a concern in all eastern parts of the country with the ENCU reporting 58 cases of cholera in March and over 60,000 SAM admissions across the country in January and February, which is 20 percent higher than the same time last year. This figure is expected to have increased through April in association with the reduced access to food across much of the country.

    Humanitarian assistance originally targeted nearly 7.0 million beneficiaries with JEOP and WFP distributing slightly lower than half of the assistance with the government providing the rest. The Prioritization Committee decided to combine the distribution for Rounds 1 and 2 as there were some delays in distribution. Assistance that was meant to cover March to May to more than 2.5 million people was supposed to have been nearly complete by late April; however, as of late April, only 11 percent of this distribution had taken place, according to regional-level reports from JEOP and WFP. Information for the distribution of government assistance was not available at the time of this analysis, as such this information was not included. Humanitarian food assistance is likely mitigating food consumption gaps at the household level; however, there is not enough evidence to indicate assistance is improving area-level food security outcomes. The Addis Ababa City Municipality decided to distribute a three-month food ration for around 400,000 poor residents of the city as of April 2020, which is likely helping cover some of the food needs for these households.

    Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to be more widespread than previously anticipated, particularly in eastern parts of the country, as many areas had a large proportion of households who were relying on humanitarian assistance that was not distributed as planned to close food consumption gaps. Households in cropping and agropastoral areas in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) are dependent on markets for food as household food stocks are exhausted with below-average purchasing power. Incomes are below-average mostly due to the decline in remittances and labor particularly in belg dependent areas due to increasingly limited local labor opportunities and increased staple food prices. Areas which are classified in Stressed (IPC Phase 2), have relatively better access to income and had a relatively better 2019 meher production and continuing to consume own foods.

    In pastoral areas of Somali Region, despite consecutive favorable seasons, below-average herd sizes are limiting the availability of livestock products for consumption and sale. Additionally, household income is below-average as remittances are decreasing associated with the economic downturn, which is an important income source for some households. Furthermore, continued conflict and insecurity in southeastern areas along the Somali/Oromia border is limiting movement beyond COVID-19 associated restrictions. This has resulted in many poor households having difficulty accessing market foods and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present. In northern pastoral areas of Somali and Afar, the consecutive poor seasons is limiting household access to livestock products and the increasing food prices is resulting in food consumption gaps among poor households and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present.


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Ethiopia Food Security Outlook for February to September 2020 remain unchanged except for the following updated assumptions:

    • Based on available information, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to continue to spread in the near to medium term, and an increasing number of cases are likely, due to both the spread of the virus and increased testing. According to the Ministry of Health, community transmission is likely occurring or will occur, and deaths are likely to increase associated with COVID-19 in May/June. While it is difficult to predict the length and severity of the outbreak as it will depend heavily on global and government actions and capacity, it is anticipated that the effects on food and income sources will persist through at least September 2020.
    • The economy, both at the macro and micro levels, is expected to contract. Additionally, it is likely that the rate of inflation will continue to increase. The Ethiopian currency (ETB) is expected to depreciate and its purchasing capacity will also most likely deteriorate as the inflation rate is expected to remain high.
    • National imports/exports are expected to be below-average and this will likely negatively impact the government’s ability to generate hard currency from export and import goods for industrial inputs in general and agricultural activities in particular as it will affect the supply of fertilizers during the planting time starting in June 2020.
    • The decreased flow of remittances will likely lead to a decrease in income among many poor households. This is an especially important income source among pastoral households in parts of Somali and Afar regions and is expected to lead to below-average incomes across the region. 
    • Supplies of staple cereals in markets are expected to be below average in main markets of the central and eastern parts of the country following movement restrictions associated with COVID-19, insecurity, and declines in production related to desert locusts. Open market function and access is expected to be restricted and below-average for traders who transport commodities from surplus-producing areas to deficit areas, and this will likely result in continued price increases for staple foods and other commodities to levels higher than previously anticipated.
    • Locust-control measures are expected to occur at lower levels than previously anticipated, leading to larger crop and pasture losses. This is due to COVID-19 and state of emergency movement restrictions and the difficulty the government is having in procuring pesticides.
    • Despite average to above-average belg rainfall, a poor start to the season, below-average area planted, and the desert locust upsurge is expected to lead to slightly below-average national belg production.
    • Agricultural labor opportunities and wages for local and migrant laborers are most likely to be below average due to a return of urban laborers to rural areas, specifically in belg-producing areas of SNNPR, Amhara, and central and eastern Oromia.
    • As a result of restricted movement and disruption of livelihoods globally, particularly in the Middle East, the export of livestock, specifically, camel and cattle, are expected to be below average, especially during the typical peak time period for exports, Ramadan. This will most likely restrict the income of pastoral and agropastoral households, mainly in Somali Region.
    • PSNP resources are planned and funded. However, the transfer to about 8 million chronically food insecure people across the country between January and June 2020, is not expected to be regular due to movement restrictions.


    More areas are anticipated to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes than previously anticipated as many poor households in both urban and rural areas are reliant on labor income and have seen a significant decrease in this income source. Poor households in many Belg-producing areas are expected to start consuming their own crops with the harvest in June/July. However, some areas are expected to still have some difficulty accessing food as the result of the below-average harvest and continued reliance on markets with below-average purchasing power. Poor meher-dependent households in east, central, and southern parts of the country are expected to have limited access to food at the peak of their lean season from June to September, following the poor 2019 meher harvest and atypically high food prices with below-average access to income. The loss of labor has impacted more people than previously expected, and this will most likely lead to a further increase in the number of people facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes.

    In the lowlands of SNNPR as well as other areas affected by conflict along the Oromia, SNNPR border and in Oromia and Somali regions, poor households already exhausted their harvest obtained from the previous season and are dependent on markets for food. Income from labor is likely to decline due to high competition of agricultural labor, conflict, and COVID-19 associated market restrictions. As a result, most households in these areas are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    In pastoral areas of Somali Region, increased pasture and water availability is expected to improve milk production per animal; however, total milk production is expected to be low as herd sizes remain below-average. Furthermore, physical access to markets is expected to be below average through September due to movement restrictions associated with COVID-19, conflict, and hagaa dry season. Displaced households in this region are expected to be concentrated along the Somali and Oromia borders and are expected to continue to have difficulty accessing income earning activities. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to continue across much of the region.   

    Much of Afar is expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as the result of continued poor access to livestock products and near complete reliance on markets to meet their food and non-food needs. The lack of labor opportunities and high food prices is expected to increase the population in need.  

    The restrictions associated with COVID-19 are likely to have continued impacts on household food and income access, especially among poor urban households reliant on daily wage labor and informal sector and migratory labor dependent households. In urban areas, those reliant on daily wage and the informal sector are expected to have difficulty accessing incomes to purchase food. This will likely result in an increase in the urban population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2).


    Figure 1


    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 4

    Figure 3

    Source: EGTE

    Figure 5

    Figure 4

    Source: FEWS NET

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top