Food Insecurity: The Role of Income Instability and Social Transfers in Tunisia During Covid-19

In this study, we assess the implications of COVID-19 shocks on household income, food security, and the role of social protection in Tunisia. We used data from the four waves of the Combined COVID-19 MENA Monitor Household Survey conducted by the Economic Research Forum between February 2020 and June 2021. First, the results show that low-income and labor income-dependent households are the most vulnerable to shocks induced by COVID-19 and that their food habits deteriorated considerably. A total of 78.4 percent of respondents declared that they are in severe food insecurity. Second, we find that food insecurity showed a higher increase in urban areas than in rural areas; self-produced food by farmers who inhabit rural areas represented a food safety net during the pandemic. Finally, households that received a social transfer did not manage to overcome severe food insecurity. The study proves that government social policies have failed to absorb the harmful effects of COVID-19. This is because social protection is mainly oriented toward retired people and excludes those who are most vulnerable to economic shocks. As a result, extending social protection coverage to households that face transitory poverty poses a challenge.