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BRIEF

Food Security and COVID-19

A scene from a market in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A scene from a market in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo credit: Kwame Amo/Shutterstock


Aug 23, 2021 – An increasing number of countries are facing growing levels of acute food insecurity, reversing years of development gains. Even before COVID-19 reduced incomes and disrupted supply chains, chronic and acute hunger were on the rise due to various factors including conflict, socio-economic conditions, natural hazards, climate change and pests. COVID-19 impacts have led to severe and widespread increases in global food insecurity, affecting vulnerable households in almost every country, with impacts expected to continue through 2021, into 2022, and possibly beyond as the Delta variant continues its spread. This brief looks at rising food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic and World Bank responses to date.  

Overview

The Agricultural Commodity Price Index remained near its highest level since 2013, and as of July 16, 2021, was approximately 30% higher than in January 2020. Maize, wheat, and rice prices were about 43%, 12% and 10% above their January 2020 levels. Surging prices reflect strong demand, along with weather uncertainties, macroeconomic conditions, and COVID-19-related supply disruptions, even though the global production outlook for major grains remains good.

The primary risks to food security are at the country level: Higher retail prices, combined with reduced incomes, mean more and more households are having to cut down on the quantity and quality of their food consumption. 

Numerous countries are experiencing high food price inflation at the retail level, reflecting lingering supply disruptions due to COVID-19 social distancing measures, currency devaluations, and other factors. Rising food prices have a greater impact on people in low- and middle-income countries since they spend a larger share of their income on food than people in high-income countries.

Rapid phone surveys done by the World Bank in 48 countries show a significant number of people running out of food or reducing their consumption. Reduced calorie intake and compromised nutrition threaten gains in poverty reduction and health and could have lasting impacts on the cognitive development of young children. Between 720 and 811 million people in the world went hungry in 2020, according to the UN report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. Looking at the middle of the projected range (768 million), around 118 million more people were facing chronic hunger in 2020 than in 2019. Using a different indicator that tracks year-round access to adequate food, nearly 2.37 billion people (or 30% of the global population) lacked access to adequate food in 2020 – a rise of 320 million in just one year.

COVID-19 is estimated to have dramatically increased the number of people facing acute food insecurity in 2020-2021. WFP estimates that 272 million people are already or are at risk of becoming acutely food-insecure in the countries where it operates. Acute food insecurity is defined as when a person’s life or livelihood is in immediate danger because of lack of food.

Hunger was trending upward even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated existing effects from extreme climate events, conflict, and other shocks to economic opportunities.

World Bank support

At the country level, the World Bank Group is working with governments and international partners to closely monitor domestic food and agricultural supply chains, track how the loss of employment and income is impacting people’s ability to buy food, and ensure that food systems continue to function despite COVID-19 challenges.    

“Responding to the Emerging Food Security Crisis,” a paper released in December 2020, summarizes the Bank’s response in the poorest countries: IDA has provided $5.3 billion in new commitments between April and September 2020 for food security. This has been through a combination of short-term COVID-19 responses and investments to address the longer-term drivers of food insecurity.

We’re building on existing projects and deploying short- and long-term financing:

  • In Bangladesh, an Emergency Action Plan, mobilized as part of a Livestock Dairy Development project, provided US$87.8 million in cash transfers to 407,000 vulnerable dairy and poultry farmers to support their businesses. Financing also went towards providing personal protection equipment, farm equipment and enhanced veterinary services through the procurement of 64 mobile veterinary clinics. 
  • In Bhutan, the World Bank  re-aligned its portfolio to support food distribution in the short term and enhance food production in the medium term through inputs supply and irrigation.
  • In Chad, $30 million in emergency financing was mobilized to provide food assistance through the free distribution of food kits to 437,000 vulnerable people experiencing severe food and nutritional insecurity located in both urban and rural areas and provided seeds and small agricultural equipment to 25,000 poor and vulnerable smallholder farmers to preserve their productive capacity for the imminent growing season.
  • In Guatemala, the Responding to COVID-19: Modern and Resilient Agri-food Value Chains project aims to provide emergency response to COVID-19 and increase economic and climate resilience by improving the efficiency of key agricultural value chains and investing in modern technologies and practices.
  • In Haiti, the Resilient Productive Landscape project mobilized emergency funding to help over 16,000 farmers access seeds and fertilizer and safeguard production for the next two cropping seasons.
  • In India, women's self-help groups, supported under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission co-financed by the World Bank, mobilized to meet shortages in masks and sanitizers, run community kitchens and restore fresh food supplies, provide food and support to vulnerable and high-risk families, provide financial services in rural areas, and disseminate COVID-19 advisories among rural communities. These self-help groups, built over a period of 15 years, tap the skills of about 62 million women across India. 
  • In the Kyrgyz Republic, the World Bank-supported, GAFSP-funded Agricultural Productivity and Nutrition Improvement Project, which focuses primarily on improving water infrastructure and developing the capacity of water users' associations (WUAs), distributed US$1.1 million in agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizer through 30 project WUAs to address vulnerable populations.
  • In Rwanda, the Sustainable Agricultural Intensification and Food Security Project received additional financing to help address the impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns. The Bank’s existing Social Protection project was also adjusted to be COVID-19 responsive. 
  • In Senegal, a $150 million IDA credit is helping increase exports of high-value crops such as shelled groundnuts and horticultural products, increase dairy farming productivity, and reduce the mortality rate of small ruminants, mitigating the negative impacts of the pandemic while investing in more productive and resilient practices.
  • In Sierra Leone, emergency financing under the ongoing Smallholder Commercialization and Agribusiness Development Project is supporting government COVID-19 response initiatives with inputs, land mechanization services, and extension services to support rice farmers. The World Bank-financed Social Safety Net Project  also scaled up its cash transfer system to provide support to the most vulnerable households.
  • In Tajikistan, through an existing Targeted Social Assistance system, the Bank financed cash transfers to food-insecure households with children under the age of 3 to mitigate the effects of increases in food prices and to protect children’s nutrition.  

Prevention 

We’re committed to helping countries prevent the next zoonotic disease from turning into a pandemic and be better prepared when risks materialize. 

World Bank experience with the Avian Influenza shows that cross-sectoral, coordinated investments in human, environmental and animal health (the “One Health” approach) are a cost-effective way to manage risks and control diseases at the source. Over 70% of emerging infectious diseases (EID) in humans have their source in animals. Transmission of pathogens from animals to humans and EIDs are increasing in a rapidly changing environment, with deforestation, land-use change and rapid population growth amplifying the exposure of humans to diseases carried by animals. 

Under the first COVID-19 package of World Bank Group financing, countries can invest in longer-term prevention, such as strengthened veterinary services, disease surveillance and food safety. In India, for example, the COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project will improve disease surveillance systems in humans and animals and health information systems across the country. In China, a new project will improve risk-based surveillance systems for zoonotic and other emerging health threats. It will strengthen the capacity for risk assessment, diagnosis and monitoring of human, animal, and wildlife diseases. It will also improve protocols for information sharing between relevant agencies.

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2021