Hunger Projected to Double in 2020

According to recent projections, acute food insecurity could reach 265 million people by the end of 2020 if swift action isn’t taken.


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.


Existing hunger crisis compounded by COVID-19

A new report projects that without immediate action, 265 million people in low- and middle-income countries will be in acute food insecurity by the end of 2020. The figure doubles last year’s count of 135 million acutely food-insecure people in 55 countries and territories.1

This drastic uptick is a result of the response to COVID-19, but it is part of a larger, more complex tapestry. Before the pandemic, the food system in many countries was struggling to supply sufficient, nutritious food for consumers. The crisis exacerbated that fragility by devastating livelihoods and disrupting food supplies, with disproportionate impacts to the most vulnerable populations.

The grim reality renews a focus on the need for increased agricultural productivity, with leaders like the World Bank’s managing director for development policy urging G20 nations to invest in improvements to agricultural productivity (link below).

Agricultural productivity rises when producers use technologies and production practices that produce more crops and livestock from existing or fewer resources. This increase in efficiency is measured as Total Factor Productivity (TFP), which is an assessment of how efficiently and sustainably we are using our land, water, human, and capital resources.

Increasing TFP can reduce risk in a global food crisis by increasing food availability, access, utilization, and stability. Faster growth in agricultural productivity translates to larger reductions in the prevalence of food insecurity on average.2

Further, compared to non-agriculture sectors, growth originating in agriculture is at least twice as effective in benefitting the poorest populations. This is unsurprising, given that “75 percent of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas and their incomes are directly or indirectly linked to agriculture,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.3

We already have the tools to achieve higher agricultural productivity growth using proven tactics: expanding and improving regional and global trade; investing in agricultural research, technology adoption, and extension services; paying greater attention to ecosystem services; improving transportation infrastructures; reducing food loss and waste; and supporting programs for agricultural development, gender equity, and nutrition.2,4

Plus, we have the impetus, as we stare down an impending global food crisis and a population of 10 billion by 2050. Though the challenge over the course of the next few months and decades is significant, there’s a case for optimism. The world has seen far greater increases in agricultural production in comparable time frames. In the five decades between 1961 and 2011, global agricultural output worldwide more than tripled, though often at the expense of the environment.1

While there are many unknowns surrounding COVID-19’s ultimate impact, we can chart a path forward with what we do know — that sustainably increasing total factor productivity is a proven safeguard against a hunger crisis now and in the future.


Children lying on the ground eating food from bowls.
Credit: Jamie Martin / World Bank


‘Instead of Coronavirus, the Hunger Will Kill Us.’ A Global Food Crisis Looms. (The New York Times; April 22, 2020)

  • “The coronavirus pandemic has brought hunger to millions of people around the world. National lockdowns and social distancing measures are drying up work and incomes, and are likely to disrupt agricultural production and supply routes — leaving millions to worry how they will get enough to eat.”

World Bank Predicts Sharpest Decline of Remittances in Recent History (World Bank; April 22, 2020)

  • As remittances drop by about 20 percent in 2020, those in developing countries who depend on the ability to send money home may face devastating consequences, since remittances often help families afford food, healthcare, and basic needs.

COVID-19 will double number of people facing food crises unless swift action is taken (World Food Programme; April 21, 2020)

  • “The number of people facing acute food insecurity (IPC/CH 3 or worse) stands to rise to 265 million in 2020, up by 130 million from the 135 million in 2019, as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19, according to a WFP projection.”

World Bank tells G20: Pandemic threatens food security of poor nations (Reuters; April 21, 2020)

  • In an online meeting with agriculture ministers from the Group of 20 major economies, the World Bank’s managing director for development policy urged countries to refrain from imposing trade restrictions and to invest in improvements to agricultural productivity to mitigate risks like food insecurity and malnutrition.

Will the COVID-19 pandemic cause a food crisis? (The Japan Times; April 17, 2020)

  • This thorough article details how Japan, a “major food importer whose food self-sufficiency rate is below 40 percent,” can maintain their food security amid a pandemic and trade restrictions, drawing on examples from history.

Indigenous Groups Isolated by Coronavirus Face Another Threat: Hunger (The New York Times; April 9, 2020)

  • For millions of Indigenous people around the world, COVID-19 could wreak havoc on their isolated communities, in addition to becoming a food crisis. 

Addressing COVID-19 impacts on agriculture, food security, and livelihoods in India (International Food Policy Research Institute; April 8, 2020)

  • Professor Mahendra Dev, an experienced academic and policy maker in India, provides insight on the actions and reforms needed to address India’s potential “massive job losses and rising food insecurity.”

Rohingya Refugees in India Fear Dying of Hunger Before Being Killed By Coronavirus (The Diplomat; April 3, 2020)

  • The approximately 17,500 Rohingya refugees in India lack access to food and clean drinking water and are not receiving medical attention despite some presenting symptoms of coronavirus.



[1]: “2020 Global Report on Food Crises,” Global Network Against Food Crises and Food Security Information Network

[2]: Sharad Tandon, Maurice Landes, Cheryl Christensen, Steven LeGrand, Nzinga Broussard, Katie Farrin, and Karen Thome. Progress and Challenges in Global Food Security, EIB-175, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, July 2017.

[3]: “How to Feed the World in 2050,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

[4]: “Sustainable Agriculture is Built on Productivity Growth,” 2019 GAP Report.

Past Resource Lists

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