How Europe is handling COVID-19’s impact on agriculture

The continent’s relative stability in the agriculture sector aids in their quick response to the crisis and their ability to look beyond for proactive measures.

July 08, 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 biweekly-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.

Europe responds to the crisis while looking ahead

Since its first confirmed case in France on January 25, Europe has had over two million confirmed cases of COVID-19.1 However, in recent weeks, many countries have cautiously begun phasing out lockdowns that were initially in place to restrict movement and contain the virus.2

As seen across the world, the lockdowns in Europe have greatly disrupted food supply chains. According to a survey by Syngenta, 46 percent of large EU farmers say their farming businesses have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey indicates 57 percent of those farmers have been impacted through a decline in revenue and sales and that 51 percent have been impacted by disrupted supply chains and shortages.3 Labor shortages have impeded farmers’ ability to harvest crops and regional distribution systems have been impeded by varying degrees of border closures.

However, the relative stability of the European agriculture sector aids in their quick response to the crisis and their ability to look forward for proactive measures. Leaders in the continent have called for increasing flexibility in the supply chain and investing in supporting farmers’ liquidity with upped advances and state aid. Still, 60 percent of farmers surveyed by Syngenta say European Union regulations have been contraining for their operations during the pandemic.3

Some farmers and communities have looked to shorten food supply chains to mitigate the crisis’ current impact on local farmers. But to remain food secure, others across the continent have advocated for an EU-wide approach that still maintains global trade — crucial in a region that is the world’s largest importer of agricultural and food products, importing nearly half of its food.4 The region is also highly influential in the global market as the world’s largest exporter of agri-foods products.5

A variety of additional challenges to improve the region’s overall resiliency in the agricultural sector have been explored amid the pandemic as well, including improving food safety and digitalization of farms. Even amid the reorienting of public priorities and navigating the current crisis, 84 percent of surveyed European farmers remain concerned about the effects of climate change on their livelihoods — a greater concern to them in both the short- and long-term than the pandemic.3 Considering Europe’s importance for global food security, every effort to improve resiliency and consider the long-term future of the region’s agricultural productivity is critical to the world’s ability to feed a growing population.


A man works in a greenhouse
Credit: World Bank


British Workers Try Their Hand at an Unfamiliar Job: Berry Picking (New York Times, July 7, 2020)

  • Workers who lost their jobs in the COVID-19 shutdown are picking up work where they can, including on the country’s berry farms.  Many have developed a new appreciation for the seasonal workers, many from Eastern Europe, who provide the bulk of the agricultural labor in Britain.

In a Pandemic, Everyone Must Adapt to Ensure Safe Food (Budapest Business Journal; July 5, 2020)

  • This Q&A with the Food and Agriculture Organization’s food safety and consumer protection officer for the Europe and Central Asia region explores the food safety concerns that arose in the region as a result of COVID-19.

Virus spike in Spain reveals plight of seasonal farm workers (ABC News; July 4, 2020)

  • With infections of COVID-19 on the rise in towns and counties around Spain, a social crisis is brewing as more agricultural migrant workers have applied for jobs than expected or can be accomodated

WHO: Unsafe food continues to affect millions in Europe (Food Safety News; June 10, 2020)

  • “Officials from the [World Health Organization (WHO)]’s Regional Office for Europe said unsafe food is still affecting millions during the COVID-19 pandemic and the region must continue to improve food safety. It is estimated that every year, 23 million people fall ill in the WHO’s European region and 4,700 die from eating contaminated food, according to data published by the WHO in 2015.”

COVID-19 crisis could ‘kick off digital revolution in agriculture’ (EURACTIV; May 26, 2020)

  • Social distancing and safety measures put in place to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus have demonstrated the importance of digital and virtual services for farmers. Looking ahead, the European Union is exploring how to support the digital transformation in agriculture to improve the resilience of the sector.

EU response to impact of COVID-19 on agriculture | European Commission (European Commission; May 13, 2020)

  • In this speech, European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski explains how the EU has supported the agricultural and food sector during the pandemic and forecasts what measures will help maintain the sector’s resilience in the coming months.

Coronavirus: French farm producers suffering from COVID-19 restrictions (Euronews; April 24, 2020)

  • Euronews explores the predicaments farmers across France face during the pandemic, namely labor shortages and disruption of supply chains.

The COVID-19 Crisis And Eu Agriculture: What We Need And What We Don’t Need (Farm Europe; April 16, 2020)

  • Farm Europe advocates for the “right investments in agriculture, those which reduce the environmental foot print and greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time keep or expand agriculture production, ensure food security and sustain farmer’s livelihoods.”



[1]: “Number of new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Europe from January 25 to July 2, 2020, by date of report,” Statista.

[2]: “Coronavirus: How lockdown is being lifted across Europe,” BBC.

[3]: “COVID-19 Impact Research European Farmers,” Syngenta.

[4]: “Q&A: Covid-19 pandemic highlights urgent need to change Europe’s food system,” Horizon Magazine.

[5]: “EU remains largest global exporter of agri-food products with EUR 138 billion in exports in 2018,” Business Review.


Past Resource Lists

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