April saw growing concerns of the possibility of global famines of 'biblical proportions', an exploration of COVID-19 impacts on supply chains in developing countries and the role business can play in protecting food and nutrition security.
To better understand how people are experiencing and adapting to COVID-19 impacts on food environments, UNSCN conducted an online survey to capture experiences from from 15 - 30 April 2020 from 118 countries. From increased food stockpiling to changes in accessibility at point of purchase, check out the findings of this survey.
COVID-19 has helped uncover the vulnerabilities of our food systems but how will this heightened awareness play out? Will we go back to the old normal or will we seize this opportunity to rebuild stronger, more resilient food systems? To make the right decision into the future will require more effective communication. Author highlights the importance of language and investing in communication around food systems as we build back better.
Outlining what we have learned from COVID-19, this article from WHO lists prescriptions for a healthy, green recovery and calls for a global moment for health and the environment.
The 2020 Global Nutrition report shows that global and national nutrition patterns hide significant inequalities within countries, with vulnerable groups most affected. How did we get here and what can we do to prevent further deepening of inequalities in nutrition outcomes? Authors explain how COVID-19 can affect the most vulnerable, disrupt already inequitable services and actions to support the most vulnerable.
Millions of people in middle- and low-income countries work in small and medium food enterprises and the food value chains of multinational enterprises. Authors identify practical ways in which multinationals can contribute to preventing a COVID-19 food crisis by supporting SMEs in maintaining the food supply and ensuring their own value chain workforce is sufficiently nourished.
"Poor diets and the resulting malnutrition -- both undernutrition and diet-related chronic diseases -- are the leading cause of ill health worldwide. Most people, especially the most vulnerable simply cannot access or afford health diets, or quality nutrition care." says Renata Micha, co-author of the 2020 Global Nutrition Report. The new report calls for a fundamental change in global food systems, highlighting the disconnect between agriculture policy and nutrition outcomes, and at the consumer level, emphasising that poor diets are not a matter of personal choice.
"There is a real risk that, as nations strive to control the virus, the gains they had made in reducing hunger and malnutrition will be lost," says David Nabarro, reflecting on the findings of this year's Global Nutrition Report in light of COVID-19. The report found that not one country is contract to meet all 10 of the 2025 global nutrition targets, and just eight of the 194 countries are on track to meet four targets.
Exploring the link between zoonotic disease and the global food supply, authors call for a One Health approach to research, science and policymaking. The article presents four recommendations for action to prevent future outbreaks, including: recognising link between human, environmental and animal health; understanding the changes in ecosystems where animals live drive the circulation of viral spread; and implementing social behaviour change focused on secondary infections and handling animals, to name a few.
"It is even more important now to scale up nutrition actions, fundings, coordination, and, last but never least, solidarity for those who need our help most," says Gerda Verburg. In this thought-piece, Gerda highlights how SUN countries Myanmar and Niger have responded to COVID-19 to minimise a backslide on malnutrition and kept nutrition on the national agenda.
"We know that many of our customers are struggling and we know that some will not be able to pay us in full for products. On the other hand, we believe that our product provides nutritious and convenient food for our customers." Acting Manager of a small business in Rwanda that provides nutritious beans, Marie Claire Nyirankundizanye shares her insights on the challenges she faces, how she is keeping her business functioning and the assistance it requires to reach vulnerable people with nutritious foods. Marie Claire's story reveals the obstacles small businesses in light of COVID-19.
While economic models suggest COVID-19 will not have a major impact on global food prices, it is anticipated to put upward pressure on food prices in some areas of the world. Drawing on FAO's Big Data tool on food chains under COVID-19, this GAIN brief outlines a few preliminary, potential impacts on consumers in 10 African and Asian countries, tracking food price changes between 14 February to 30 April. Out of 136 country-food combinations, 118 showed price increases. It concludes that price increased for many food in all 10 countries have occurred over the last 2.5 months.
Following first phase of COVID-19 response, development and humanitarian organisations are turning to tackle secondary impacts of the pandemic on nutrition. The second phase will see greater focus food security concerns and a rise in innovation to meet these concerns amid social-distancing restrictions.
"There is much more to learn about COVID-19. But it seems clear that poverty, obesity and its related diseases make some people old before their time." This article by Camilla Cavendish reviews figures and studies from around the world looking at how people who are overweight or obese are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and the importance of understanding this connection. The author recommends "turbocharg[ing] public health programmes that can reverse chronic conditions" as to protect our populations against this virus and in the future.
"When it comes to a pandemic like the coronavirus outbreak, Ms. Linos said, the poor are even more outmatched than people with means. They cannot afford to stock up on food, which means they must go more frequently to stores, increasing their exposure. And even if they have jobs, they are unlikely to able to work from home." The World Bank warns that for the first time since 1998, global poverty rates are forecast to rise. By the end of the year, 8% of the world's population, half a billion people, may be pushed into destitution, largely because of the pandemic, according to the United Nations.
"The impacts of the COVID crisis will likely require a rebuilding of economies around the world. This is both a challenge and an opportunity to rebuild something that serves people better," says Roy Steiner. Senior Vice President of the Food Initiative outlines four actionable steps to adjust our food systems: shifting diets, supporting local food systems, reducing the burden on our environment, and increasing transparency and coordination.
Reviewing the scope of the food and nutrition problem we face due to COVID-19, Lawrence Haddad identifies four immediate actions to avert a food and nutrition crash: 1) Act now to stop malnutrition; 2) to maintain coverage rates of essential nutrition programmes; 3) to keep nutritious food moving unchecked; and 4) do whatever possible to shore up incomes and food demand.
"Last week, the World Meterological Organization released data showing that temperatures have already increased 1.1. degrees centigrade above preindustrial levels. The world is on track for devastating climate disruption from which no one can self-isolate," says SG Guterres. In this op-ed, the SG highlights the need to work together as societies and as an international community to save lives, ease suffering and lessen the shattering economic and social consequences of COVID-19.
"To endure that Africa doesn't starve, and that it can weather the COVID-19 storm, it is essential to make sure people are guaranteed access to food, water, soap, masks, and cash transfers to support their families." Jessica Fanzo outlines the challenge COVID-19 poses for the African continent as well as its young population and recent history of Ebola - two factors working in its favour.
“So, as doctors and nurses rally to save as many patients as possible, governments and public authorities must protect the rest of the world’s most vulnerable by recognising the fundamental role of agriculture in minimising the multiplier threat of coronavirus, and warding off more hunger and poverty,” writes Grainger-Jones. The threat is greatest in countries where malnutrition is already high, yet agricultural production remains the backbone of the economy.
From drastic reductions in dietary diversity to the erosion of resources for maternal and child healthcare, this article outlines the likely affects of COVID-19 on nutrition. It also points to 10 key, multi-sectoral actions to protect nutritionally vulnerable groups, including keeping agrifood systems functioning, facilitating food system innovations, using social safety net programmes to improve dietary quality, to name a few.
Positioning food companies as essential to enabling communities to stay in isolation and contain COVID-19, responsible businesses can help to protect food supply chains and deliver messages around best practices for hygiene and social distancing.
Managing COVID-19 in low- and middle-income countries will require health, hygiene, and physical distancing measures — the implementation of which will largely depend on women who face many obstacles that men do not. Neha Kumar, Agnes Quisumbing, Ruth Meinzen-Dick, and Claudia Ringler provide lessons and evidence on how women can be empowered to play these roles within the gender dynamic contexts they face — and in ensuring the crisis does not roll back recent gains.
"Today, U.S. and global leadership will be critical to avoid the worst-case scenario: an expanding global pandemic that spirals into a global food security crisis." Authors put forward five commitments for the US to prevent this worst case scenario, among them supporting food crisis response teams at a national level, stabilising food market and reducing price volatility, to name a few.
UN warns that COVID-19 will push an additional 130 million people to the brink of starvation with a worst-case scenario predicting famines in "about three dozen countries", according to Executive Director of WFP. David Beasley emphasises "there is a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself", creating a trade-off between saving lives and livelihoods. Countries particularly at-risk include: Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Nigeria and Haiti.
The UN World Food Programme has warned that the number of people facing acute food insecurity could nearly double this year to 265 million due to the economic fallout of COVID-19. WFP's Arif Husain, Chief Economist and Director of Research, Assessment and Monitoring, emphasises the need to act quickly in order to protect livelihoods and lives, especially vulnerable groups.
In this article, author Chase Sova maps the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on hunger and malnutrition, on the supply chain and its lasting impacts for food security. Chase urges global coordinated action to reach those most vulnerable.
A snapshot of the COVID-19's impact on El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and how NGOs are mobilising to ensure people in rural and urban areas have access to food.
"From the farmworkers picking the fruits and vegetables... to the employees that stock supermarket shelves: government and industry across Asia must do everything to make sure the labour force is safe, able to work and are considered essential services." Author Matt Kovac remind us that food system actors are essential workers for the continued access to nutritious foods.
"But for many young people like Craig, life just got a whole load harder. The regular free hot meal he relied on at school is no longer available. He queued at the supermarket with his Dad last week but the shelves were empty. His Mum's work has dried up so getting enough food to last through the week is tight. It's hard to find fresh, healthy produce in supermarkets, so he goes to local shops but they area whole load more expensive." Mapping a 15 year old's experience of COVID-19, this article highlights the responsibility we have to emerge from COVID-19 with a plan to change our food system.
"In a new scenario analysis, we estimate that globally, absent interventions, over 140 million people could fall into extreme poverty (measured against the $1.90 poverty line) in 2020-- an increase of 20% from present levels. This in turn would drive up food insecurity." Using an IFPRI global model, authors assess the likely impacts of the economic downturn for poverty at regional and global levels.
"To rebound from the pandemic, Africa must maintain adequate food reserves, avoid protectionist policies and promote value chains that link domestic and International markets." Outlining a four-pronged perfect storm of COVID-19 hitting failing healthcare and collapsing food systems, a locust outbreak, climate extremes, and increasing food import costs, authors highlight challenges facing the African continent and the African Development Bank's measures to address the threat of food security.
"Crop diseases, if left unchecked, will create a comparable crisis in the future, and could be multiplied further as warming temperatures expand their footprint." This article outlines the vulnerability of our global food system to plant diseases and emphasises the need for greater investment in disease research to prevent a crop disease pandemic.
Millions of residents of Wuhan are again able to venture from their homes. But small businesses worry that the lockdown may have altered consumer behaviour permanently. This Bloomberg article interviews Xiong Fei, owner of a Sichuan restaurant that remains empty.
"As a nutritionist, I am particularly interested to see how COVID-19 can help to establish long-lasting behaviour changes in the way that people choose, prepare, and enjoy products they eat and drink," says Angelika. Angelika outlines three benefits she hopes people will discover following coronavirus.
"Measures taken to curb the crisis are the starting point for a food system transformation that builds resilience at all levels." This statement from International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems outlines what COVID-19 tells us about our food systems, how food systems actors are responding and recommendations for the way forward.
"In Ethiopia, the locusts have caused widespread losses of sorghum, wheat and maize, and vastly reduce the amount of available land for cattle crazing, FAO said." FAO Ethiopia calls for assistance in the form of agricultural inputs and cash transfers to safeguard livelihoods, especially as the situation is further complicated by the COVID-19 crisis.
Assessing the immediate effects of COVID-19 on the vegetable chains, authors of this article found that in Ethiopia consumption of fruits and vegetables in urban settings is declining, trade is affected by travels bans and reduced competition, prices for vegetables are falling while farmers have reduced access to inputs.
"Vegetable production is marked by its highly seasonal nature, its high labour needs, and perishability of fresh produce and the associated need for good storage and distribution logistics. COVID-19 restrictions are already posing serious logistical challenges for the movement of food -- a particular concern for perishables." Author Jody Harris highlights the significant implications of reduced vegetable consumption for nutrition security.
This article focuses on asparagus to tell the story of the implications of COVID-19 on the food systems. It's price falling from $3 per pound to just over $2 has serious implications for the supply chain and the relationship between supply and demand.
"Based on model predictions, early empirical evidence, and lessons from previous crises, the answer to the "will COVID-19 lead to a food crisis" question is probably: Yes and no. There is no single, global answer; the risk of food crisis depends on the level of economic development. So if you are rich the answer may well be no, but if you are poor, the answer is more likely to be yes." Author Johan Swinnen highlights how the poor will be disproportionately effected by COVID-19 and urges government policies and programmes to address the immediate needs of this vulnerable population.
"The number of people going hungry around the world could double in just a few months as coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on food supplies and hurts incomes," warns author of this article. Transport and labour disruptions coupled with job losses and reduce incomes could result in rising hunger. A letter signed by Nestle SA, Unilever NV, Danone SA and PepsiCo Inc. urges world leaders to maintain global food supply chains and open trade.
165 global leaders have sent a letter to the G20, calling for coordinated international action and $8bn in emergency health funding to tackle the health and economic emergency resulting from COVID-19 around the world.
"As part of the recovery, let’s do everything we can to open the floodgates to nutritious foods – taking unhealthy foods out of the spotlight — and support the resilience COVID-19 has shown we need more than ever: the health and wellbeing of all," says Corinna. In this article, Corinna calls for creating a new normal in which eating well becomes the norm.
"Experts are warning of disastrous increases in malnutrition as key programmes to deliver food and micronutrients to vulnerable populations are interrupted." This article looks at the immediate and long-term implications of COVID-19 for food distribution, food prices, funding of nutrition programmes and more.
"Africa's smallholders produce 80% of the food we eat. It, therefore, goes without saying that if they can't farm because of COVID-19, Africa will inevitable face a food crisis," says Agnes. This article highlights lessons from India to Ghana that support farmers and can be scaled across the continent.
What can we learn from the past - and each other - to keep food moving in a time of fear and confusion caused by the coronavirus? From putting money in people's pockets via cash transfer to declaring food as an essential commodity, this article outlines ways in which we can keep food moving from farm to fork in a safe and affordable way.
“These last 10 days have taught me that things can change, and change rapidly, and that we can rest norms, we can use evidence and science whilst sill taking risk to innovate into the unknown, that companies can act when people demand they act and that the balances of power can be utilised -for the common good- to drive change through,” says Paul. Drawing on 30 years experience in business, Paul presents a new definition for companies and outlines six ways in which business can thrive for the benefit of all of society.
"Evidence suggests that the impacts will be felt widely, but unevenly. Farm operations may be spared the worst, while small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in urban areas will face significant problems." Starting with a snapshot of food supply chains in developing countries, this article presents seven hypotheses highlighting the likely effects of COVID-19 on the retail and food service industry, impacts on farm populations and the affordability of food in these contexts.
"Based on emerging data and the patterns of infection we have seen in other viral infections, overweight and obesity are also likely to be risk factors for worse outcomes in those who are infected by COVID-19," says World Obesity Federation. This policy statement outlines how COVID-19 is likely to impact people living with obesity -- impacts that can be the root causes of obesity -- and identifies recommendations for governments around the world.
"Today, we can't sell at all. Not even a ton per day." Noy, a smallholder farmer in Hoi Village, Khoun district of Laos, shares her experience of COVID-19: empty food markets and a sharp drop in cabbage prices and sales.
"While there’s no need for panic - there is enough supply of food in the world to feed everyone – we must face the challenge: an enormous risk that food may not be made available where it is needed," says FAO DG Qu Dongyu. FAO DG calls for global solidarity to avert a humanitarian disaster triggered by a food crisis.
“Any effective response to a COVID-19-related food crisis requires examining how to restructure our global & national food systems," highlights Thanawat Tiensin, Agnes Kalibata and Martin Cole in new-oped. Authors call for joint action to save lives, meet immediate needs through emergency responses and plan for long-term solutions to support recovery and build resilience.
By analysing past experiences of disrupted food and agriculture systems, this new FAO resource provides a compilation of policy responses to help keep supply chains alive and guide our food policy response to COVID-19.
"As the pandemic spreads the interaction between people and the food system is changing at an unimaginable speed and taking on greater importance in everyday life." This article by USCN outlines how food environments are being disrupted by COVID-19 and identifies examples of positive policy actions to protect food environments.
Will COVID-19 have negative impacts on global food security? Whose food security and livelihoods are at risk due to the pandemic? FAO’s Q&A outlines what we know of the impact of COVID-19 on food and agriculture.
A narrative series by David Nabarro, Special Envoy on COVID-19, provides strategic advice and high-level political advocacy on the coronavirus, touching on learns for global leadership, impact on business, the need for coordinated action and much more.
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