Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

The Global Report on Food Crises with a focus on Covid-19: A Summary

The 2020 edition of the Global Food Crises Report warns of the risk of food security crises within the Covid crisis.

The 2020 edition of the Global Food Crises (GRFC) Report, the flagship publication of the Global Network Against Food Crises 2020, warns of the risk of food security crises within the Covid crisis.

The report documents that pre Covid-19 a record number of people were already at risk of acute hunger globally. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (the IPC scale) in 2019 around 135 million people worldwide, 11 million more than in 2018, faced food insecurity globally.

A number of factors contributed to the rise in food insecurity over recent years; the main two drivers are identified as conflict and unpredicted weather shocks. Covid-19 is expected to exacerbate these existing vulnerabilities.

Drivers of Food Insecurity (Pre-existing Covid-19):

Conflict Insecurity: Conflict has been identified as the main driver of food insecurity, with countries from Middle Eastern and Asian regions being primarily impacted; over half of the 77 million people who were in crises countries due to conflict we from these regions. Conflict makes it increasingly difficult for business to function and people to generate the income for buying essential goods such as food. As a result, it also weakens the economy and leads to other systems like healthcare weakening. Conflict also presents a challenge for aid organisations to provide assistance to people in need.

Weather: Weather is also a major driver of food insecurity, with 34 million people facing acute food-insecurity due primarily to weather events, especially in southern Africa. Weather shocks such as drought adversely impact agricultural production for an extended period after the event, especially for small holder farmers who lack the equipment and expertise to deal with sudden weather shocks. The severity of a weather shock’s impact is dependent on the country’s ability to adapt to such challenges; countries with weak economies often cannot adjust accordingly.

Economic Turmoil:  Economic shocks have been shown to correlate with increased food insecurity and are the primary cause of current acute food-insecurity for around 24 million. Economic shock can lead to drops in investment and trade while also leading to inflation, which increases food prices. It also leads to increased social unrest, which may lead to conflict or rising tensions within the country. The associated lack of available finance makes it difficult for the agricultural sector and for individuals to find employment, making the country as a whole more at risk of food insecurity.

Other drivers

Other drivers include health shocks to both animals and humans, as well as crop pests and natural disasters, which can both lead to lower levels of food production, thus hampering a country’s ability to feed its population.

The dark Covid-19 cloud

The acute food insecurity forecasts for 2020, produced before Covid-19 became a pandemic, serve to highlight that some regions have entered this phase at already high risk of food crises. Covid-19 which threatens to overburden health systems in already fragile contexts whilst the above outlined drivers of food crises will continue to create high levels of malnutrition. It is also anticipated that the pandemic will impact livelihoods and food security for agricultural workers globally, and in turn majorly disrupt global food supply chains.  

Health and nutrition

The combination of rising levels of food insecurity, high rates of underlying health conditions, including NCDs and malnutrition, and already fragile and under-resourced health systems risks magnifying the impact of Covid-19 in ‘food-crisis countries’.

Food availability

Movement restrictions due to Covid-19 may reducing availability of even the most basic food items, leading to increasing food prices and decreasing revenues for agricultural producers. The report also warns of the impact of the pandemic on nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralists if national governments close borders, disrupting livestock migration routes, including across the fragile Sahel region.

Food access

Limitations on economic access to food are likely to increase as a result of increased unemployment, particularly in urban populations, daily wage earners in informal economies and service sector employees. This will be combined with rising costs for agricultural produce as a result of decreased availability, as a result of movement restrictions preventing agricultural workers to produce, harvest and process crops.

The pandemic is also anticipated to have acute impacts on displaced populations; on generating conflict and social unrest, especially in the most vulnerable food-crisis countries. The diversion of humanitarian assistance funds to Covid-19 efforts will be a major compounding factor for food crisis countries.

Priorities for action

The GRFC report recommends taking rapid collection action to pre-empt the socioeconomic impacts of Covid-19 and sets out the following priorities for action:

  • Expand near-real time, remote food security monitoring systems
  • Preserve critical humanitarian food, livelihood and nutrition assistance to vulnerable groups
  • Position food in food-crisis countries to reinforce and scale up social protection systems
  • Scale up support for food processing, transport and local food markets, and advocate for trade corridors to remain open.

The 2020 edition of the Global Food Crises (GRFC) Report can be accessed here:

This summary was prepared by GAAFS students Julian Mashingaidze and Dylan Edgar with Dr Kirsteen Shields.