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, on a selection of key sources (see below) on the input of network members (see right column) and results of the e-discussion organized by the SDC Agriculture & Food Security Network on Governance of City Region Food Systems under COVID-19 (see outcomes in English, French & Spanish). It will be regularly updated. You are very welcome to send your opinions, experiences and inputs to Ueli Mauderli and Lou Curchod.

Last update: 11.06.2020


  • 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.
  • Invest in a sustainable future:
    The crisis can be seen as an opportunity to accelerate movement towards sustainable food systems that are more resilient to future pandemics and that offer better protection for all.



  • The massive economic impacts of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the control and mitigation measures enforced worldwide, will significantly increase food insecurity. The World Food Program for example, estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic could almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger, pushing it to more than a quarter of a billion by the end of 2020 (WFP).
  • In many countries, food prices are rising in cities while at the same time they are declining in rural areas. This disparity results from rural food producers having difficulties to connect with demand in cities and food-importing countries.
  • 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)
  • When milk and dairy products, fruits and vegetables, meat and fish fail to reach the markets and are wasted, farmers, pastoralist households, fisherfolks and traders suffer major income losses. This leaves fewer resources for preparing for the next season. In addition, significant amounts of food that reach retailers and consumers are wasted because of restaurant closures and hoarding by consumers who fear loss of access to retail stores.
  • 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 closing 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.
  • 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 ministries are often excluded from COVID-19 responses (IFPRI COVID-19 Policy Response Portal). While task forces typically consist of health, commerce, industry, foreign affairs and urban development ministries, agricultural officials are “conspicuously absent". This implies a risk that COVID-19 responses don't always consider impacts on agriculture.
  • 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.
  • Transhumant herders are blocked at borders and face all kinds of risks, conflicts with local farmers, lacking pasturelands, diseases of the herds etc.
  • 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.
  • In many places, these challenges add up to already existing ones like pests (e.g. locusts, fall armyworm), natural hazards such as cyclones, pre-existing food insecurity, already weak logistics for agricultural markets and political instability.


Pathways to action:

  • Expand the use of frequent food security monitoring systems to provide up-to-date information on the impacts of the outbreak and understand better who is most at risk. The public sector can distribute concise and clear information via media and other channels about appropriate food hygiene, food consumption and preparation.
  • Different levels of government need to act in a concerted manner in order to facilitate local solutions.
  • Broaden the vision for a 'nexus approach in the context of Covid-19' and prepare appropriate safety nets for the most vulnerable along the rural-urban link and migrants through vouchers, solidarity funds, food parcels and the facilitation of civil society.
  • Declare food production, marketing and distribution essential services everywhere to keep trade corridors open to ensure the continuous functioning of the critical aspects of food systems in all countries.
  • Step-up capacity-building and awareness-raising through ICT based advisory services, radio and other media and develop new digital tools to make a difference – especially also regarding the establishment of direct producer-consumer relationships.
  • Include the promotion of healthy food in social protection measures (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).
  • Explore alternative models for food transport to lower costs and increase quality and improve the agricultural supply chain system.
  • Engage civil society in food quantity and quality issues to influence the private sector and governments.
  •  Apply lessons learned from analogue experiences and responses (2008/9 food price crisis, Ebola outbreak).
  •  Reposition food systems to be more effective at delivering affordable nutritious food during and after the crisis. Global food trade should be reconsidered in order to increase resilience in food systems.
  • 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.


Sources and further reading:

E-Discussion & Webinar

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

Read about the results!
Lisez sur les résultats !
¡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)