Do allotment gardens soften the food security blow of the corona lockdown

Many cities and municipalities that are under lock down, due to the pandemic of COVID-19, experienced a disruption in the supply of food after implementation of national directives. Usually food and essential products are supposedly exempted from restrictions, but reality proofs different. Hence, lock down effects hit hard especially on urban areas of the Global South where no financial buffers are available to compensate loss of income or organize food packages. Needless to say that it is especially the urban poor who suffer most. Furthermore, urban inhabitants do not avail of natural endowments and miss proximity and easy access to food production sites that are present in rural areas; hence, among all negative effects food insecurity might particularly be daunting among the urban poor.

Concerning gender related food insecurity, female-headed households with dependent children who have limited access to assets and jobs belong to the most vulnerable ones. And the crisis will not fade away easily. Long-term prospects are that of a massive economic recession that is likely to trickle down to vulnerable communities in the Global South in the years to come. Allotment gardens in urban and peri-urban areas – urban gardens – could provide an excellent safeguard to soften the blow to food security that results from a lockdown. Urban gardens supply fresh and healthy vegetables for own consumption and for a cashing of the surplus production. Hence, the call to organize and implement urban gardens seems to be justified but needs empirical evidence to inform and convince decision makers to intervene.

The Republic of Benin is no exception. Benin, which has been affected by COVID-19 since 16 March 2020, has taken a series of barrier measures of progressive intensity, one of which was the establishment of a sanitary cordon “also termed cordon sanitaire” to isolate the risk zones from other regions of the country. A sanitary cordon is the restriction of movement of people into or out of a defined geographic area, such as a community, region, or country. A sanitary cordon is generally created around an area experiencing an epidemic or an outbreak of infectious disease, or along the border between two nations. Once the cordon is established, people from the affected area are no longer allowed to leave or enter it.

Thus, the disease was circumscribed in the sanitary cordon and efforts were concentrated on that region that comprised twelve municipalities. Despite the movement restriction of people, the transport and supply of food products was allowed though, elements like increased transfer cost, difficult access to factors of production were experienced by the population; thereby, affecting their food security. After the decision to open the sanitary cordon on May 10th, the government has decided and enabled the population to resume economic activities while following the barrier measures (wear face mask, washing hands regularly, and physical distancing). The latter decision also coincided with the rainy and main production season with the hope that food production and distribution would reduce the food insecurity situation that might be created by the crisis, and lock down thereafter.

We are excited to partner with the Amsterdam Center for World Food Studies to launch a study that will propose a post-COVID19 policy options for food and nutrition security in Benin. This study aims to elucidate the role of allotment gardens by testing the hypothesis that urban gardeners are better off in lockdown periods as compared to urban citizens without a garden. In this study, the focus is especially on the urban poor that live in slums or any poor identified zone around cities. Through a Rapid Food Security Appraisal (RFSA), garden participants are asked for their food security (number of meals per day for the last 30 days) and food diversity patterns (eaten food groups recalled for the last 24 hours). Results are compared to control groups that have similar poverty and socio-economic condition but do not avail or have access to an urban garden. The project also evaluates the lockdown effects in rural areas and compare these to urban areas. Furthermore, in a transdisciplinary setting the project consults experts in food policy to propose an organizational structure that guides the implementation of recommendations and aid packages.

On Monday 14, 2020, we are training our enumerators before they are deployed on the field to organize interviews for the study to develop post-COVID19 policy options for food and nutrition security in Benin.