Prof. Joseph Assan (Heller) spoke at a virtual Heller School for Social Policy and Management event on March 24 about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted “livelihood sustainability and human wellbeing.”

Hosted by the Center for Global Development and Sustainability, this presentation was the third in a series of discussions centered around sustainable development.

The presentation focused on the livelihood of African countries, with a particular emphasis on Ghana.

When the covid-19 pandemic hit, Ghana and other nations were met with “the most severe and widespread shock that African countries have experienced in 30 years,” Assan said.

Particularly with preexisting challenges, many African countries are experiencing significant economic instability in the wake of the virus.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that $345 billion will be needed across the continent to rebuild the economy, development and citizens’ livelihoods by 2023, Assan explained, adding that much development progress that had been made has now been lost.

He said that this is the most severe recession that Africa has experienced in the past 30 years with a 3% to 5.4% GDP decrease –– which could push as many as 40 million people into poverty.

“COVID-19 has changed the world. It has cost lives, battered health systems and damaged livelihoods,” Assan said, quoting Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo.

Two more speakers joined Assan to showcase examples of ways in which Ghana has been impacted by the crisis. Sustainable development consultant Tawiah Agyarko-Kwarteng spoke about the cocoa growing communities in Ghana.

Cocoa farming is a major industry in West Africa and has been greatly affected by the economic issues caused by the pandemic, she said.

Agyarko-Kwarteng explained that although rural communities do not have as many COVID-19 cases as urban populations, changes have had to be made to farming procedures to comply with health regulations.

For instance, she said, training has to be digitized, which disproportionately excludes the large percentage of women cocoa farmers, as they are less likely to own mobile phones and to be members of farmer groups.

Moreover, restricted trade has disrupted farmers’ supplies of fertilizers and other necessary equipment, and an overall slowing of the global economy has decreased the demand for cocoa.

Ghanaians’ livelihoods have been further impacted by the financial loss that accompanies the disrupted cocoa industry. Agyarko-Kwarteng said that women have again been disproportionately affected, having to use their savings to get by as they lose income.

Schools in Ghana are also closed, and access to remote learning is limited. Due to school closures, she said, mothers are experiencing stress because of growing learning gaps for their children.

Many children have had to work because they are not in school and their families need additional income.

Agyarko-Kwarteng concluded her presentation by discussing a few policies that would help mitigate the inequality issues that rural women in Ghana face and that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The biggest issue is improving their financial security, she said, explaining that this can be done through improving credit access, land tenure security, training access and education.

Rose Dodd, the founder of Kaya ChildCare, then spoke about the impact of the pandemic on the Kayayoo, a group of marginalized women head porters.

These young Ghanaian women travel from their hometowns to marketplaces in the city to sell goods for a living, Dodd said.

She explained that the Kayayei typically work long hours without any child support and live with their families in their market stalls when away from home. Dodd established Kaya ChildCare as a learning program so that the children can learn and play while their mothers work, receiving the education level they will need to enter primary school.

Once the pandemic hit, however, the marketplaces and public transportation in Ghana closed, costing the Kayayei their jobs, Dodd said.

On top of this, she noted that this community’s children were also affected by the schools closing and the new necessity of working to help their families.

Even as Ghana reopens its schools, students have been delayed in returning to the classroom because they have been contributing to their parents’ income, she said.

Dodd concluded her presentation with how her organization has been aiding the Kayayoo women and their children through the pandemic by organizing care packages of food, hand sanitizer and face masks.

She also urged the importance of better emergency communication between the government and the Kayayei, also suggesting that future policy changes engage the community.

Assan said that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) such as cocoa farms and market stands make up a significant portion of Ghana’s economy.

However, health regulations that render people unable to work because they must remain home or do not have adequate access to remote technology are causing these businesses to suffer.

In reforming policies and working to rebuild the economy following the pandemic, “policymakers must not lose sight of the region’s informal sector,” he said.

Ghana has been receiving some international aid, helping to mitigate revenue losses and to provide citizens with COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, Assan said.

He explained that due to pandemic-induced economic instability, many sub-Saharan African nations are becoming more dependent on remittances, aid that had been in decline before the virus.

In terms of COVID-19 cases, Assan said that Africa has had relatively few cases in comparison to other continents, but there have also been inequities in testing.

However, through COVAX, a World Health Organization and United Nations initiative for “global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines,” developing countries have been able to purchase AstraZeneca vaccines at an affordable price, and vaccination rates are increasing rapidly.