The Impact of COVID-19 on ARD and Food Security

  • 02nd April 2020
  • by secretary

26 March 2020. CIMMYT) convened and moderated a special virtual meeting of the Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) Working Group of the Scaling Up Community of Practice (CoP).

Twitter: #scaling4sd

31 participants from Africa, Europe, Latin America and the US discussed the impact of COVID19 on ARD and food security (FS)for about one hour. This blogpost presents a summary of the main discussion points.

During this crisis poor rural communities in developing countries will be especially vulnerable. Recessions will reduce the demand for rural output and labor. Volatile commodity and food prices will negatively affect rural producers. Agricultural and food supply chains will be interrupted. 

Chinese “Green Channels” may provide an important model. China is providing production incentives to farmers, allowing free transit of agricultural supply trucks with a permit to quarantined areas, and cracking down on profiteering). 

Rural public services (including extension, etc.) and rural credit flows will be negatively affected. Seasonal agricultural labor migration and cross border migration (and hence remittances) will face barriers. There will be reduced priority given in national budgets and international assistance to ARD and food security as the COVID-19 crisis response focuses mainly on health and macroeconomic concerns.

Impact on supply chains:

  • Some major food exporting countries are beginning to impose or consider export restrictions (e.g., Vietnam, Thailand) and illustrate the potential for important supply disruptions in the future .
  • It is important to distinguish between international and local supply chains, each of which may suffer for different reasons and in different ways. High value export crops (e.g., flowers from East Africa to Europe) are harmed by the collapse of European demand; trade in local staple crops may be harmed due to local distribution blockages and market closures.
  • The impacts will differ according to market segment and income levels: In Uganda, WG members noted that supermarkets are open, but small and informal markets are closed. SMEs are more likely to be disrupted and permanently harmed than larger international firms, who may simply withdraw temporarily.
  • Farmers and local distributors may not have the relevant information to make effective decisions under highly uncertain circumstances.
  • Food insecurity impacts will be especially severe in high-density urban poverty areas, while subsistence farming may be less affected in the short term. At question is whether farm services and farm labor will be deemed essential services and exempt from some or all quarantine restrictions. If not, this could worsen food supply impacts. In addition, if field workers (with other laborers) are required to return from their workplaces to home rural villages, the temporary reverse migration may burden rural communities with limited health and food resources, in addition to potentially aiding the spread of COVID-19 from urban to rural areas.

Time horizon: 

There will be short, medium, and long-term challenges for ARD and food security.

  • Short term: Supply chain disruptions will have immediate impacts on producers and consumers. Communication will have to shift from in-person to electronic/phone
  • Short term: Hired labor will be unavailable/ unaffordable leading to labor shortages which will affect planting, harvesting, etc in areas that have low levels of mechanization.
  • Medium term: Reduced access to seeds in the planting season will affect harvests in the subsequent harvest season (e.g., in Colombia).
  • Long-term: Smallholders are often older people; if, as is likely, they are more severely affected by COVID-19, more small farms may be abandoned. SMEs and informal enterprises in the supply chain may have to go out business as a result of the crisis and may not return in the longer term.

Implications for policy makers and aid partners:

  • Don’t forget about food security.

o Governments and multilateral organizations will face pressure to move budget resources from agriculture to health.
o National and international organizations need to take a leadership role in calling attention to the importance of securing food production and supply chains, and offer analysis and guidance, .
o The replenishment of international assistance for ARD/FS windows must not be shortchanged.

  • In the short term, ensure agricultural and food product supply chains continue functioning (e.g., model of “Green Channels” in China).
  • In the short term, food exporting countries should not block exports, even as they aim to maintain national food security.
  • In the medium to longer term, Low to Middle Income Countries and their partners should explore options to further develop domestic SME and other agribusiness capacity for processing, logistics and wholesale functions to increase incomes, employment and improve resilience to global shocks. (See Tom Reardon interesting study for AGRA on “the hidden middle”)
  • COVID-19 presents an opportunity for accelerating the shift to digital engagement in agriculture and other sectors, and to strengthening the capacity of locally based experts. Governments and public and private sector partners can build on this opportunity by prioritizing investments that increase access by the poor to digital resources – e.g., broadband, electricity.
  • Governments and development partners will need to bridge administrative silos across national and sub-national ministries/agencies for effective outreach at scale to rural areas. For example, agricultural extension networks can be used for informing the rural population about COVID-19 risks and responses; rural cooperatives, women’s self-help groups, and micro credit systems can be used to convey social safety net benefits to members (some of these actions are already being undertaken in different countries).
  • More research and policy action on zoonotic diseases is required, esp. for “wet” markets, but also more generally on food safety. Some research is ongoing (e.g., ILRI, IPBES and the One Health movement).
Related and upcoming webinars:
26 March 2020WEBINAR. The Impact of COVID-19 on ARD and Food Security. Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) Working Group of the Scaling Up Community of Practice (CoP).

2 April 2020. WEBINAR. COVID-19, food systems, and interaction with malnutrition
Time: 10:00a NY/Boston, 3:00p London, 4:00p Rome, 5:00p Addis, 7:30p Delhi
To join this meeting, click from any device on:

7 April 2020. WEBINAR. Washington. LAUNCH EVENT – 2020 Global Food Policy Report: Building Inclusive Food Systems.

7 April 2020. WEBINAR. COVID-19 and Global Food Security Implications

7 April 2020. WEBINAR. Empowering the community through Inclusiveness and engagement in the Food and Nutrition Security, and Sustainable Agriculture Sector LEAP4FNSSA second webinar

8 April 2020. WEBINAR. Réunion Virtuelle | COVID-19 et implications pour la sécurité alimentaire mondiale

8 April 2020. WEBINAR. Scaling up agricultural insurance – The role of financial institutions and agribusinesses as distribution channels. 
Basis risk, lack of trust, poor financial literacy and distribution challenges remain an issue for significant adoption of agricultural insurance by smallholders around the world. This webinar will  explore how linking agricultural insurance to financial products or agricultural input packages can address the challenges related to scaling up agricultural insurance. For more information and to register, please click here.

9 April 2020. WEBINAR. Soybean Disease in the Tropics: A Management Toolkit