Food Systems in a Time of Pandemics

We are curating a list of resources and news about COVID-19, and other human, animal, and plant diseases and pests, that are impacting our food systems.


As the world hunkers down to combat the spread of COVID-19, our food systems continue to operate. How they operate in these unprecedented times and how the pandemic may impact these systems is still unfolding, and much remains to be seen.

The productivity and sustainability of our agriculture and food systems are constantly threatened by pandemic outbreaks of disease and pests. African swine fever, citrus greening, locust swarms, fall armyworm, and banana bunchy top virus are just some of the challenges facing farmers, large and small, around the world.

In the coming weeks, the Harvest 2050 blog will provide 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.


Why Productivity Matters During COVID-19

This week, our update is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and the food system.

COVID-19 demonstrates the complex web of environmental, economic, and human challenges that urgently need to be addressed if we are to sustainably meet the agricultural needs of 10 billion people in 2050. During these times, it is especially evident that our food systems must continually optimize and increase productivity in order to feed the world’s growing populations, both during a crisis and outside of one.

Technologies and practices that enable producers to increase their output using the same amount — or less — resources, are an important part of mitigating risk. They enable producers to control costs and manage their natural resource base to promote resilience in times of crisis. Increasing productivity growth gives us a better shot at safeguarding our food systems from the impacts of a worldwide crisis.

Below are resources and articles highlighting current and future challenges to our food systems from COVID-19.


A photo of a shipping truck stopped at a gate.
Credit: Vigen Sargsyan / World Bank

On Trade

Increasing agricultural productivity matters only if the products can reach consumers. Effective trade systems must be in place to prevent food waste and ensure the supply chain can withstand the shocks of a pandemic.

Explainer: How the coronavirus crisis is affecting food supply (Reuters; April 2, 2020)

  • While there is currently no shortage of food supplies, lack of air freight and trucker shortages are disrupting deliveries of fresh food. Looking ahead, lack of labor may impact future harvests — not enough workers means food may rot in the fields, and producers may have to plant less in coming harvests.

Agricultural Marketing Information System Market Monitor (AMIS; April 2020)

  • The Agricultural Marketing Information System was created by the G20 after the 2007 food price crisis to track global stocks of wheat, maize, rice, and soybeans and discourage hoarding of stocks by nations. While current global stocks of staple crops are sufficient to meet demand, given the prospects of much weaker economic growth in many countries and rising concerns over the impact of temporary lockdowns on both domestic logistics and international trade, AMIS is closely monitoring the situation to promote policy dialogue and transparency.

Agency chiefs issue joint call to keep food trade flowing in response to COVID-19 (World Trade Organization; March 31, 2020)

  • In this statement, Directors-General of FAO, WHO and WTO come together to advise countries to avoid disrupting the food supply chain, which would have “particularly pronounced consequences for the most vulnerable and food insecure populations.”

Countries Starting to Hoard Food, Threatening Global Trade (Bloomberg, March 24, 2020)

  • A handful of nationalist trade policies are rolling out across the globe, not in response to food shortages, but anxiety. Bloomberg explores how this could disrupt an increasingly-connected international trade system.

Covid-19 may shave $245 mn off farm, marine exports to China, Italy in March (The Economic Times; March 23, 2020)

  • Using data from the World Trade Centre, this article breaks down the financial impacts of the virus outbreak and the resulting disruptions to the supply chain. Italy and China, previously the worst-affected countries, are projected to have taken a $245 million hit.


A photo of a worker lifting grains.

On Labor

As workers get sick or borders close down, harvests may not go as planned and supply chains can break down, potentially leading to waste.

Food goes to waste amid coronavirus crisis (Politico, April 5, 2020)

  • As agricultural workers fall sick from COVID-19, crops are left unharvested in the fields and critical parts of the food supply chain are understaffed.

Virus chaos snarls farm workers as new season buds in Europe (Spectrum Local News; March 24, 2020)

  • European borders are being closed to slow the spread of the virus, and it means seasonal workers — essential for harvesting — are unable to reach the farms that rely on them. This article takes a look at some of the tactics producers are attempting to maintain their operations.

A photo of a basket filled with nutritious vegetables and fruits like apples, tomatoes, bell peppers, and broccoli.

On Nutrition and Food Security

Disruptions in food production may mean there is less food available. Nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables are some of the most labor intensive crops, and particularly vulnerable to labor shortages.

The Effects of COVID-19 Will Ripple through Food Systems (Scientific American; March 26, 2020)

  • While we don’t know yet just how the coronavirus outbreak may impact our food systems, Scientific American reports that changes to operations may most impact more specialized and higher-value crops, limiting supply.

Resources on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

  • FAO is coordinating prevention, preparedness and detection activities in animals, in liaison with WHO and OIE using the One Health approach. The One Health vision is a unifying force to safeguard human and animal health, to reduce disease threats and to ensure a safe food supply through effective and responsible management of natural resources.


A photo of a large meeting.
Credit: World Bank / Franz Mahr

On Policymaking

Increasing productivity can only be accomplished with forward-thinking policymaking. During a crisis, effective policy plays a role in dampening impacts to food systems and productivity.

A battle plan for ensuring global food supplies during the COVID-19 crisis (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

  • FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero Cullen outlines how countries can craft plans for their food systems during the coronavirus outbreak.

How Congress can help farmers reduce loss and risk in uncertain times (Environmental Defense Fund; April 1, 2020)

  • A strong crop insurance system is vital for healthy rural and farm economies, especially in a period of growing uncertainty.

Past Resource Lists

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