The coronavirus pandemic and food security: evidence from West Africa

This paper documents some of the first estimates of the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on food security in a low- and middle-income country context. It combines nationally representative pre- pandemic household survey data with follow-up phone survey data from Mali and exploits sub- national variation in the intensity of pandemic-related disruptions between urban and rural areas. These disruptions stem from both government policies aiming to slow the spread of the virus and also individual behavior motivated by fear of contracting the virus. The paper finds evidence of increasing food insecurity in Mali associated with the pandemic. Difference-in-difference estimates show that moderate food insecurity increased by about 8 percentage points -- a 33 percent increase -- in urban areas compared with rural areas in Mali. The estimates are substantially larger than existing predictions of the average effect of the pandemic on food security globally and therefore highlights the critical importance of understanding effect heterogeneity.