Learn how the World Bank Group is helping countries with COVID-19 (coronavirus). Find Out


New shocks related to climate change, conflict, pests (such as locusts and Fall Army Worm) and infectious diseases (such as COVID-19 and African Swine Fever) are hurting food production, disrupting supply chains and stressing people’s ability to access nutritious and affordable food, raising fresh concerns for food security in 2020.

Improving access to safe and nutritious food – and maintaining food security in times of crisis -- is fundamental to ensuring the prospects of future generations. Children who are properly nourished during the first 1,000 days of their lives are 33% more likely to escape poverty as adults. Yet, currently 151 million children under the age of 5 have experienced chronic malnutrition.  This represents an immense loss of individual and economic potential.

After many years of progress, the absolute number of undernourished people has increased in recent years, from 784 million in 2015 to 820 million in 2018. More than 2 billion people lack the micronutrients needed for growth, development and disease prevention And, over 2 billion people suffer from the adverse health effects of being overweight or obese.  

The widespread incidence of microbiological, chemical or other food safety hazards in food also continues to be a serious issue for the food system. There are some 600 million cases of foodborne illness globally each year—and children and poor people bear the brunt of this burden. Unsafe food not only represents a serious public health concern, but it also negatively impacts the incomes of farmers, the livelihoods of food vendors and the continuity of business and trade. 

Poor nutrition and food-borne illness both impose large current and future human, economic, social and fiscal costs on countries. Reducing these costs requires multi-sectoral approaches: There is great potential for effective interventions throughout the food system.

With the right investments and resources, agriculture and food systems can provide adequate, affordable, safe and nutritious food to everyone, everywhere, every day – even in times of crisis.  


The World Bank Group works with partners to build food systems that can feed everyone, everywhere, every day by improving food security, promoting ‘nutrition-sensitive agriculture’ and improving food safety. The Bank is a leading financier of food systems: In Fiscal Year 2018, there was US$ 6.8 billion in new IBRD/IDA commitments to agriculture and related sectors.

Activities include:

  • Strengthening safety nets to ensure that vulnerable families have access to food and water - and money in their pockets to make vital purchases
  • Delivering expedited emergency support by fast-tracking financing through existing projects to respond to crisis situations
  • Engaging in policy dialogue and coordinated activities with countries and development partners to address food security challenges. Instruments include rapid country diagnostics and data-based monitoring instruments and partnerships such as the Agriculture Market Information System, the Famine Early Action Mechanism and the Agriculture Observatory
  • Promoting farming systems that use climate-smart techniques, and produce a more diverse mix of foods, to improve food systems’ resilience, increase farm incomes and enable greater availability and affordability of nutrient-dense foods
  • Improving supply chains to reduce post-harvest food losses, improve hygiene in food distribution channels, and better link production and consumption centers
  • Applying an integrated “One Health” approach to managing risks associated with animal, human and environmental health
  • Supporting investments in research and development which enable increasing the micronutrient content of foods and raw materials
  • Advocating for policy and regulatory reforms to improve the efficiency and integration of domestic food markets and reduce barriers to food trade
  • Working with the private sector, government, scientists and others to strengthen capacities to assess and manage food safety risks in low and middle-income countries
  • Supporting long-term global food security programs: The Bank houses the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), a multi-stakeholder partnership that pools donor funds and targets additional, complementary financing to agricultural development across the entire value chain.  Since its launch in 2010 by the G20 in response to the 2008-2009 food price crisis, GAFSP has reached 15 million smallholder farmers and their families with over $1.2 billion in grant funding to 58 projects in 37 countries, $330 million to 66 agribusiness investment projects in 27 countries, and $13.2 million to support producer organizations through the pilot Missing Middle Initiative (MMI). Learning and responding to the increasing body of evidence linking hunger to conflict, GAFSP held a one-time special Call for Proposals in 2019 to target countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV), and allocated almost $120 million in grants to eight projects in FCV countries
  • The Bank also supports the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) which advances agriculture science and innovation to boost food and nutrition security globally

Selected Results:

In Bangladesh until 2016, a World Bank project, increased the agricultural productivity of selected crops (rice, wheat, lentil, mung, and mustard), livestock (dairy cows, chicken, and ducks), and fisheries (tilapia, koi, and pangus) in economically depressed areas that are vulnerable to impacts of climate change. The project increased the generation and dissemination of new improved varieties, including 3,500 tons of certified seeds of rice, wheat, maize, pulses, and oilseeds.

In India, women's self-help groups, supported under the National Rural Livelihood Mission co-financed by the World Bank, have 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 and have proven the worth of a critical community-based institutional architecture in a time of need.

In Rwanda, a program on land husbandry, water harvesting, and hillside irrigation aimed to better manage rainfall in watersheds to prevent hillside erosion. The program, which is partially funded by GAFSP, reached over 300,000 farmers through farmers’ organizations, erosion control, productivity enhancement, and policies which increased farmers’ access to finance. Nutrition training and the construction of over 54,000 kitchen gardens has also upgraded the quality of people’s diets in project areas, the percentage of households with quality food consumption increased from 71% in 2012 to 83% in 2018.  A follow-on project is expanding this approach to an additional 38,000 farmers and over 500 producer-based organizations, improving productivity, the availability of nutritious food and the processing and marketing of food.

In Samoa, which has some of the world’s highest rates of diabetes and heart disease, a Bank-supported project is working to improve agriculture and health outcomes. The program has increased fruit and vegetable yields and strengthened the connections between local farmers to markets. The percentage of locally produced fruit and vegetables sold domestically increased ten-fold between 2012 and 2018. The government’s “eat the rainbow” campaign also promotes healthy eating.

In UgandaGAFSP funding is increasing the production and consumption of micronutrient-rich foods, including African indigenous vegetables, high-iron beans, and orange-flesh sweet potatoes. In addition, more than 575,000 women and more than 270,000 children are receiving improved nutritional services, including deworming, cookery demonstrations, handwashing information, antenatal services, health talks on a variety of nutrition topics, and growth monitoring promotion.

In 2016, a livestock competitiveness and food safety project in Vietnam helped 105,000 people raise healthier livestock. About 11,000 livestock producer households adopted safer animal husbandry practices leading to a significant decrease in pig and poultry mortality rates (25%). In addition, 240 slaughterhouses and 381 wet markets have been upgraded and their operators trained, providing more hygienic pork and poultry meat to hundreds of thousands of consumers.

Last Updated: Apr 10, 2020