Exploring COVID-19’s impact in Southeast Asia

The region grapples with the COVID-19 food security issues and looks for sustainable solutions.

June 09, 2020

The productivity and sustainability of our agriculture and food systems are constantly threatened by pandemic outbreaks of disease and pests. The Harvest 2050 blog is providing a weekly-updated list of resources and articles that explore the threats to agricultural productivity, food security, livelihoods, and environmental sustainability from diseases and pests that sicken and kill people, livestock, and crops.

The 2020 GAP Report will also explore these themes, as well as describing technologies, practices, and policies that foster productivity growth, while also mitigating the risks of pandemic disease and threats. We will keep this list current, so follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn, where we’ll share as we update this blog. Past resource lists are available here, and linked at the bottom of each blog.

Building pandemic resilience in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is geographically diverse and agriculturally crucial, with more than11 percent of the agricultural workers in the world.1

Composed of states situated on the southern tip of mainland Asia and a collection of island nations, the region has just over 8 percent2 of the world’s population with 3 percent of earth’s land area. The region has made remarkable progress toward food security, with an astounding drop in undernourishment rates from 31 percent to below 10 percent from the early 1990s to 2014-16.3

However, food security remains a prevalent issue with countries in various stages of development. Keeping these populations fed requires both local food production  and reliance on international trade. In the wake of COVID-19, however, both food sources have experienced a shock that researchers estimate will lead to a 3.11-percent cut in agricultural output, according to the Inquirer article linked below. Specifically, more than 100 million farmers will be affected, and 17 million metric tons of produce are expected to be lost as a result of responses to the COVID-19 crisis.

Regional leaders are working toward recovery and calling for “protecting and investing in people and enhancing resilience; supporting sustainable and inclusive economic recovery; and restoring supply chains and supporting small and medium enterprises,” according to the UN News article linked below.

With the spotlight on resilience and mitigating shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural productivity remains an important topic of discussion for the region. Finding ways to maintain or reduce current rates of input use, while increasing agricultural output, is critical to sustainable and stable food security for the region. Additionally, building strong yet flexible supply chains ensures that agricultural outputs and the inputs used to create them are not wasted.

This week, we’re highlighting resources that provide a glimpse of these conversations in the region.


A man and his dog overlook a rice field.
Credit: Dominic Chavez / World Bank


Connectivity Key to Make Food Production More Efficient in Indonesia (Jakarta Globe; June 2, 2020)

  • Indonesia is exploring its options for increasing productivity among farmers, particularly using a wide variety of digital technologies. But before implementing tech, they have to overcome connectivity challenges, especially in remote areas of Indonesia where a majority of agricultural production takes place.

Pandemic exposes flaws in food supply (Bangkok Post; June 1, 2020)

  • “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how prone Thailand is to food insecurity, as demonstrated by how easily its centralised supply chain was knocked off balance by the virus outbreak.”

How COVID-19 and climate are encouraging islands to invest in food security (Devex; May 26, 2020)

  • Islands often rely on imports to feed their populations, but COVID-19-related trade issues are encouraging island nations to take a second look at their local agricultural industry and reliance on imports.

COVID-19 slashes SE Asia agri output by 3.11% (Philippine Daily Inquirer; May 22, 2020)

  • According to the Inquirer, Southeast Asia is looking at losses of $3.76 billion, or 1.4 percent of the region’s gross domestic product.

Asia-Pacific nations commit the whole region to ‘defeat’ COVID-19 (UN News; May 21, 2020)

  • “In their messages the leaders cautioned about the complexities and growing threats of COVID-19 on sustainable development. They, however, also expressed their optimism that recovery will provide the opportunity to strengthen resilience and build a more equal, inclusive and sustainable Asia-Pacific region.”

Ensuring food security and nutrition in South Asia during COVID-19 (World Bank Blogs; May 5, 2020)

How beef cattle are unlocking SE Asia’s poverty trap (AgCoTech; February 24, 2020)

  • Researchers are looking at ways to help break the cycle of rural poverty in Laos, Cambodia, and beyond through improved livestock productivity.



[1]: “Overview of the agricultural modernization in Southeast Asia,” International Food Policy Research Institute.
[2]: “Subregions in Asia by population (2020),” Worldometer.
[3]: “Southeast Asia: Prospects and challenges,” OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2017-2026.


Past Resource Lists

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