COVID-19 and Food Security: Crisis Within a Crisis


SEATTLE, Washington — Of the many issues facing people in low-income nations, the newest challenge is COVID-19 and food security. Food security can be disrupted in a myriad ways, adding even more pressure to a fallible system. According to David Beasley, the executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), “In a worst-case scenario, we could be looking at famine in about three dozen countries.” As the global pandemic wreaks havoc on an already fragile system, COVID-19 and food insecurity go hand-in-hand, paving the way for a crisis within a crisis.

Food Insecurity

In 2019, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” report. According to the report, 9.2% of the world population experienced severe levels of food insecurity. Furthermore, nearly 700 million people experienced hunger after the quantity of food they consume daily reduced. In addition to severe levels of food insecurity, the FAO report cites 17.2%, or 1.3 billion people, have experienced food insecurity at moderate levels, which is defined as regular access to both nutritious and sufficient food. At least two billion people, slightly more than one-quarter of the world population, experience some level of food insecurity.

Another facet of the impact of COVID-19 and food security is the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity throughout the world, which is projected to double. Acute food insecurity refers to food insecurity that is caused by unforeseen events. In 2019, 135 million people were impacted by acute food insecurity. The WFP predicts that acute food insecurity will impact upwards of 265 million people in 2020, many due to COVID-19.


In developing countries where people already deal with common diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and diarrhea, quality nutrition is vitally important. When people are left with no food, it further compromises their immune systems. Worldwide, there were an estimated 150 million children suffering from malnutrition before COVID-19. Additional studies show that nutrition is vital to the successful functioning of one’s immune system, especially when combating COVID-19 and other diseases.

Food insecurity is exacerbated for children due to COVID-19 because of school closures. At least 1.6 billion children are not in school due to shutdowns. As a result, 370 million children are not receiving school meals five days a week. Therefore, children are at risk of malnutrition.

Disrupted Supply Chains Affecting COVID-19 and Food Security

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is no known evidence for food packaging enabling the transmission of COVID-19. Instead, despite social distancing practices used to help stop the spread of COVID-19, it is vital to global food security to stop the disruption of supply chains.

Countries that rely heavily on imported food as staples of their diets are at risk of not having enough food to meet the demand. For instance, Sub-Saharan Africa is at high risk for meat shortages due to supply chain failures such as border closures. The inability of farmers to grow crops has caused breaks in the supply chain. Access to fertilizer and seeds from supply chain breakdowns and farmers’ inability to plant fields due to illness are two other factors that potentially may impact food security.

Purchasing Power

In developed areas, economic lockdown is causing families to spend their savings on necessary goods and services. In developing countries, families are losing the ability to purchase the foods they are used to. Instead, food purchasing power is deteriorating and will affect the quality and type of foods that can be purchased.

Although COVID-19 has made acute food insecurity a reality for many people around the world, the WFP is taking measures to help alleviate some of the strain. The WFP is finding alternatives and providing take-home meals for students who can no longer receive meals from school. Building on the initiatives to provide meals for out-of-school children, the WFP is also positioning three months’ worth of meals for at-risk people around the world. By taking this initiative, food would be readily available even if trade and travel are restricted across international borders. In order to do so, the WFP has found new routes for shipping the necessary food to low-income communities.

The challenge of ensuring the world’s poor have enough food in the face of COVID-19 is a momentous task. Tackling a problem that existed before the global pandemic is extremely difficult. However, it is vitally important to take measures to help prevent the inception of a crisis within a crisis. By understanding the problem and helping to take measures, it is possible to limit the impact of COVID-19 on food security. The work of WFP is one example of how organizations can help.

Max Lang
Photo: Flickr


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