COVID-19 and Food Systems

COVID19 and Food Security

The COVID-19 outbreak poses huge challenges for the global community. ​While at the beginning the focus has mainly been on health issues, it has become clear that this crisis will have big impacts on all areas of society. On this page we are focusing on food systems, especially in developing countries: What are the impacts, the challenges and the main actions required?

The information on this page is based on our appreciation and prioritisation of our continuous reading of new information. It is thus preliminary and will be regularly updated. You are very welcome to send your opinions, experiences and inputs to Ueli Mauderli and Lou Curchod.

Last update: 28.04.2020


  • Broaden the focus on implications for food systems:
    Governments currently still focus mainly on health issues of COVID-19. It is now imperative to pay attention to the food systems: Insufficient quality and quantity of food are
    a) the number one cause of diseases and mortality worldwide; and
    b) an important cause of political instability.
  • Stabilise food systems and keep national and international food trade open: 
    Avoid restrictions of movements and road closures because they curb farmers' access to markets both to buy inputs and sell products.
  • Increase health efforts to protect work force along the whole food supply chain:
    All people working in food systems from field to fork are critical to keep food systems moving, in production, transport, logistics, processing, packaging and selling.
  • Extend social protection:
    Provide solutions for the most vulnerable that face the rapid loss of their income - spent mainly on food, e.g. through one-off or multiple cash transfers or vouchers via mobile payment systems or other safety net programmes.
  • Promote healthy food:
    It is now time to make the case for healthy food strengthening the immune system, especially of the elderly and more vulnerable.



  • In Asia food systems have already been significantly affected, and these impacts will grow if people and enterprises involved in food production, distribution and processing don't receive optimal health care support.
  • Trade-dependent countries could be severely impacted by a global economic downturn, as much on the food import side (price hikes) as from an export perspective (falling income revenues)
  • COVID-19 will affect the production of staple food crops such as wheat and rice, but also vegetables, if the outbreak continues into critical planting periods. It is very likely that this will be the case for many production areas in low and middle-income countries.
  • Domestic and international trade disruptions and protectionist policies (such as tariffs and export bans) may trigger food price panics or price increases. [Price Watch March 2020 by FEWS NET] The demand for services and inputs to increase food production might collapse, which would contribute to a decrease in the availability of food and to higher prices. The prices for more nutritious food might go up and the closer of informal markets might increase the consumption of less nutritious staples and unhealthy processed foods (especially among the poor). The amount of time, energy and money spent for food is very likely to increase.
  • Urban household could be hit harder as they rely more heavily on markets to buy food and as the containment measures might result in job and income losses. Moreover, the poorest households usually suffer the most from food price spikes and the linked adverse impacts of food security might especially affect women and children.
  • There may be a lack of workers in agricultural production and harvesting due to restrictions on mobility and workers being affected by COVID-19 (migrant seasonal workers constitute 27% of the agricultural working hours).
  • Agricultural investments could decrease due to reallocation of budgets.
  • Lapses in food safety might exacerbate the situation.
  • Disruption of farmers' cropping schedules will likely increase water demand for irrigation and, in some regions, intensify risks and tensions associated with water scarcity.
  • The expansion of the human population into previously undisturbed ecosystems has contributed to the increased number of human infections of animal origin in recent decades. Moreover, modern industrial food production and the density of animals in factory farms is contributing to the emergence of diseases of animal origin.
  • People in food crises often have higher rates of underlying health conditions, including non-communicable diseases and malnutrition (acute, chronic and micronutrient deficiencies), which weaken the immune system and increase the risk of people developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.



  • Contact the FAO country offices for a more specific analysis on the consequences in their country.
  • The public sector can distribute concise and clear information via media and other channels about appropriate food hygiene, food consumption and preparation.
  • All stakeholders should make the case for healthy food that strengthens the immune systems (especially important for the elderly).
  • Social protection should include the promotion of healthy food (millions of children miss out on their daily school meal – for the periods of the lock-down, local governments should find new ways of supporting healthy diets for poor families in their city/village).
  • Alternative models for food transport to lower costs and increase quality should be explored, while improving the agricultural supply chain system.
  • The civil society should be engaged in food quantity and quality issues to influence the private sector and governments.
  • Local, national and regional food prices and food stocks should be closely monitored.
  • Lessons learned from analogue experiences and responses (2008/9 food price crisis, Ebola outbreak) should be applied.
  • A modelling of trajectories for agriculture and food security for LMIC and MICs is required.
  • Food systems must be repositioned to be more effective at delivering affordable nutritious food during and after the crisis.
  • This could be an opportunity to decentralize the food systems, create more local variety and walk away from the prevalent homogenization that is hindering the nature and its natural equilibrium that ultimately translates into resilience and protection of human beings against zoonosis.
  • Global food trade should be reconsidered in order to increase resilience in food systems.


Sources and further reading:

E-Discussion & Webinar

City Region Food Systems Governance under COVID-19 (4-26 May 2020)

Read about the results!
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¡Lea sobre los resultados!

Your inputs

We are very interested in your inputs, comments and questions!

Send your inputs to Ueli Mauderli & Lou Curchod

Thanks all who have contributed so far:
Charles Apotheker, SDC (Bern),
Christina Blank: GPFS/SDC (Bern),

Salvador Camacho: SwissTPH, Switzerland
Willi Graf: SDC Tunisia,
Karin Gross: GPFS/SDC (Bern),
Felix Hintermann: BFH-HAFL, Switzerland,

Xiangping Jia: SDC Beijing,
Katharina Jenny: SDC (Bern),
Divya Kashyap: SDC India,

Sarah Mader: Swissaid, Switzerland,
Joep Slaats: GFRAS, Switzerland,
Daniel Valenghi: SDC Pakistan,

Simon Zbinden: GPFS/SDC (Bern)