COVID-19 and Food Systems: Rebuilding for Resilience

Liz Martin 9m8j7jvw Nc Unsplash

As part of its ongoing work in supporting preparations for the forthcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), the Global Panel has produced a brief for the Scientific Group of the UNFSS; ‘COVID-19 and Food Systems: Rebuilding for Resilience’. The paper argues the vital need to strengthen the resilience of food systems, not just to cope with a future pandemic, but for a range of demand- and supply-side shocks that could occur. The paper sets out principles and priorities for achieving that.   

Food systems were already in crisis before COVID-19 emerged. However, the paper discusses how the pandemic has worsened the situation by impacting global food systems in so many ways, thereby exposing their fragility. Food production and trade have been disrupted, and jobs and incomes through the food sector have been impacted. In some cases, the pandemic has jeopardised planting the next year’s crops. Food environments have also been severely affected – with the closure of shops, restaurants and informal markets, and a surge in the demand for online grocery shopping. The result of these disruptions has been to substantially increase food insecurity and threaten the diet quality of many millions of people.  

“The World Bank estimates that 119 to 124 million people will have been pushed into poverty.” 

It is vital to learn the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and to rebuild food systems better so that they are better prepared for a range of future shocks. Indeed, the brief discusses how better functioning food systems can themselves help to reduce the risk of future pandemics which originate in animal populations.  

The advice and recommendations in this brief will be applicable to all countries but are especially relevant to low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) as these are generally least able to cope with such shocks. It is also of direct relevance to Action Track 5 of the UNFSS: Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses. 

This is one of two briefs that have been developed by the Global Panel for the UNFSS Scientific Group. The second paper on The Transition Steps Needed to Transform Our Food Systems can be read here.