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Nutrition challenges during COVID-19 pandemic

This question was posted the COVID-19 and nutrition programming forum area and has 4 replies.

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Jamila Mweta

Student

Normal user

20 Jan 2021, 06:35

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, food production has faced in a challenge due to preventive measures which do not allow people working in  crowds, most of small farmers depend on community work team, how does this affect them? Is there any assistance given to individual farmers on how to protect themselves and what to do to increase productivity? What kind of crops to be produced and why?

Philip James

Senior Technical Associate, ENN

Normal user

21 Jan 2021, 12:12

I recommend IFPRI's resources for this topic. They have some interesting blogs, case studies and briefs that speak to your question. For example, this may be of use: https://www.ifpri.org/publication/resilient-agri-food-systems-nutrition-amidst-covid-19-evidence-and-lessons-food-based

 

NATASHA LELIJVELD

Frequent user

3 Feb 2021, 15:47

FAO have kindly complied their experiences of working with farmers during COVID: 

  • How does COVID-19 affect small farmers?

COVID-19 is negatively affecting small farmers, who may be particularly vulnerable to its effects, both through the spread of the virus and due to its economic and social consequences. This is especially true for rural populations living in fragile contexts. Countries that depend on imported supplies and landlocked countries have been the most affected.

COVID-19-related disruptions affect the access to agricultural inputs (e.g. seed, fertilizer etc.). This, in turn, will limit the ability of producers to plant on time and will likely drive a reduction in crop yields.[1] Moreover, all over the world, markets were forced to close or implement shorter hours. This forced closure, added to the restriction of movements, is cutting farmers’ access to markets to sell their products. Even small farmers‘ access to their own land has been compromised by physical distancing and lockdowns. This often means labor shortages, regardless of the harvesting period. Similar issues arise in processing, transportation and storage. In fact, transport along commodity routes has been disrupted by restrictions on cross-border movement, leading to supply delays and post-harvest losses.[2] These challenges were not made easier by the introduction of new measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (e.g. handling and distancing). On the contrary, it created a further delay in the production and distribution of products. Agriculture extension and advisory services have also faced severe disruptions since lockdown measures have been implemented, further reducing farmers’ access.[3] This increased lack of infrastructure and transport systems have worsened the level of food loss and waste. This is particularly true for perishable food.[4]

In pastoral regions, livestock-rearing households are also negatively impacted by movement restrictions, especially those preventing cross-border movements, which have interrupted their access to grazing and watering points.[5] The same goes for the livelihoods of fisheries and aquaculture actors, due to decreases in consumer demand, disruptions in markets access and logistical bottlenecks.[6]

In addition, more than 170 countries have implemented nationwide closures of schools, impacting over 84 percent of the world’s student population.[7] It means the cancellation of school meals, often the only source of nutrition for children in vulnerable households. This leads to school meal suppliers and caterers losing their income.

These issues will strongly affect small farmers’ efforts to put food on the table.

  • Is there any assistance given to individual farmers on how to protect themselves and what to do to increase productivity?

Countries all over the world have adapted exceptional measures to assist individual farmers, vulnerable households and the agricultural sector in this time of stress. The assistance plans follow mainly these lines:

1. Expand and improve emergency food assistance and social protection programs:

For vulnerable households, single or multiple cash transfers at the outset can soften the full impact of the crisis when it hits. Cash transfers can help families until circumstances improve, especially as disruptions to social services occur. In this context, mobile payment systems are ideal for ensuring rapid delivery and minimizing human contact through cash exchanges. In addition, vulnerable families also need forbearance on tax and mortgage payments.

2. Give smallholder farmers support to both enhance their productivity and market the food they produce[8]:

An injection of capital into the agricultural sector can help small and medium-sized agricultural enterprises to continue operations.[9] Small farmers could improve their productivity through cash grants and safety net programs. In the same vain, banks should wave fees on loans to farmers and extend repayment terms. Moreover, it is important to ensure that agricultural tasks in the cropping cycle are performed on time. This will help reduce post-harvest crop losses along the supply chain. Furthermore, all constraints to domestic trade, including bureaucratic hurdles, should be removed to link small farmers to markets effectively. Overall, mechanisms to make food supply chains more inclusive for small farmers should be implemented (e.g. distribution centers, selling points, market hubs, etc.). Obviously, when possible, such policies must be implemented with adequate measures to ensure the safety of agricultural workers. On-site health professionals can ensure that workers are not sick. Home coronavirus testing, when available, could facilitate this task. In addition, a set of measures to reduce risk of contagion should be put in place: farmers and warehouses should eliminate visitors, stores should reduce their hours, rotate staff and double their delivery services, warehouses and processing plants should be redesigned to allow workers to practice social distancing. Finally, health professionals should regularly take employees' temperatures and ensure that they wear masks, gloves and other protective equipment.

3. Enhance access to digital technologies and services and encourage their use:

During times of restricted movements, using digital platforms to decentralize marketing channels and minimize personal contacts are useful to ensure connectivity between farms and markets.[10]  (For more info: https://bigdata.cgiar.org/blog-post/leveraging-digital-tools-for-adaptive-food-systems-in-india-during-the-covid-19-lockdown/)

Countries can seek international funding to support their smallholder farmers. Many initiatives and funding mechanisms were created for this purpose. In this regard, FAO has been extremely active, due to its unique ability to mobilize power to lead international efforts through a multilateral approach.

FAO's comprehensive and holistic COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme (http://www.fao.org/partnerships/resource-partners/covid-19/en/) is designed to proactively and sustainably address the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. In line with the UN approach to “build back better,” and in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, it aims to mitigate the immediate impacts of the pandemic while strengthening the long-term resilience of food systems and livelihoods. Through extensive analyses, ongoing consultations with decentralized offices and bilateral discussions with resource partners, FAO identified seven key areas of action needed to ensure rapid and continued support to the most vulnerable while anticipating the secondary repercussions of the virus:

Moreover, in November 2020, FAO launched the Food Coalition (http://www.fao.org/food-coalition/en/), which aims to work for a unified global action in response to COVID-19 and the risks to agri-food systems it poses. It is a voluntary multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral alliance set up to support innovative initiatives to ensure global food access, increase the resilience of agri-food systems and put them on a more sustainable course. It involves a devoted trust fund and a web-based hub allowing participants to access a basket of project-focused information and data, as well as the funding and types of assistance needed for many on-the-ground projects.

The Food Coalition will:

  • Mobilize resources, expertise and innovation
  • Create a “Network of Networks”
  • Advocate for a joint and coordinated COVID-19 response
  • Promote dialogue and exchange of knowledge and expertise among countries
  • Provide a One Stop Shop through a web-based hub on countries’ needs and demands
  • Work towards solution-oriented plans and programmes
  • Expand and strengthen the international cooperation and partnership for a longer term impact.
  • What kind of crops to be produced and why?

To address this question we could take into account the differences in crops and focus on the relative logistics bottleneck of each value chain.

The food value chain can be broadly divided into two groups: the staple commodities (wheat, maize, corn, soybeans and oil seeds) and the high-value commodities (fruits, vegetables and fishery). The staple commodity production is capital intensive, and the problem of labor shortages resulting from coronavirus-related movement restrictions has less impact on their production.[11] However, the logistics to distribute the commodities is affected, as it makes it difficult to transport food across cities, provinces, regions and countries. The high-value commodities, on the other hand, require a large amount of labor to produce. Therefore, they are substantially affected when employees become ill or local and migrant workers are unable to travel due to local lockdowns.[12] Logistical barriers that disrupt food supply chains further affect high-value commodities due to their perishable nature. The high-value supply chain includes food processing plants, which are also labor-intensive. Currently, most sorting and packaging lines do not meet social distancing requirements.

Countries must find the best way to strike a balance between the need to maintain production and the need to protect workers. COVID-19 has presented complex challenges to the food system and it has made its structural weaknesses more apparent, while, at the same time, exposing the interconnected vulnerabilities linking livelihoods and food distribution. Indeed, the crisis can become an opportunity to identify bottlenecks and address them.


[1] Zuleta Ferrari, C. City region food systems in Antananarivo, Madagascar: A sustainable approach to respond to COVID-19

outbreak. 2020. http://www.fao.org/in-action/food-for-cities-programme/news/detail/en/c/1272226/

[2] Roussi, A. 2020. Kenya farmers face uncertain future as Covid-19 cuts exports to EU. Financial Times, June 4, 2020. https://www.ft.com/content/05284de8-c19f-46de-9fe7- 482689be364b

[3] FAO. 2020. Extension and advisory services: at the frontline of the response to COVID-19 to ensure food security http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/ca8710en

[4] Potham, P.; Taguchi, M.; Santini, G. Local Food Systems and COVID-19; A glimpse on India’s Responses. 2020.

http://www.fao.org/uploads/pics/COVID-19_and_Indian_food_systems-edited_draft-17-04-2020mt_pepcopy__1_.pdf

[5] FAO. 2020. Mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 on the livestock sector http://www.fao.org/3/ca8799en/CA8799EN.pdf

[6] FAO. 2020. How is COVID-19 affecting the fisheries and aquaculture food systems. https://doi.org/10.4060/ca8637en

[7] https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse

[8] For examples of Countries’ Policy responses: http://www.fao.org/2019-ncov/analysis-detail/en/c/1268957/

[9] Shen, G.; Liao, X. Response Measures to Ensure the Urban Food Supply System and Farmers’ Livelihoods under COVID-19.

Experiences from Jiangsu Province, China. 2020. http://www.fao.org/in-action/food-for-cities-programme/news/detail/en/c/1276460/

[10] FAO and ECLAC. 2020. Food systems and COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean: The opportunity for digital transformation. Bulletin No. 8. Santiago, FAO. http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/ca9508en

[11] FAO. 2020. COVID-19 and the risk to food supply chains: How to respond? http://www.fao.org/3/ca8388en/CA8388EN.pdf

[12] FAO. 2020. COVID-19 and smallholder producers’ access to markets http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/ca8657en

NATASHA LELIJVELD

Frequent user

3 Feb 2021, 15:49

More useful reading:

How COVID-19 may disrupt food supply chains in developing countries: https://www.ifpri.org/blog/how-covid-19-may-disrupt-food-supply-chains-developing-countries

COVID-19 crisis and support for agrifood: Public sector responses through the financial sector: http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/ca9846en

COVID-19 and the role of local food production in building more resilient local food systems: http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/cb1020en

COVID-19 and the risk to food supply chains: How to respond? http://www.fao.org/3/ca8388en/CA8388EN.pdf

NATASHA LELIJVELD

Frequent user

3 Feb 2021, 15:51

More useful reading:

How COVID-19 may disrupt food supply chains in developing countries: https://www.ifpri.org/blog/how-covid-19-may-disrupt-food-supply-chains-developing-countries

COVID-19 crisis and support for agrifood: Public sector responses through the financial sector: http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/ca9846en

COVID-19 and the role of local food production in building more resilient local food systems: http://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/cb1020en

COVID-19 and the risk to food supply chains: How to respond? http://www.fao.org/3/ca8388en/CA8388EN.pdf

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