Policy Brief: The impact of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition

United Nations

This policy brief from the United Nations looks at how COVID-19 has impacted already-strained global food systems and sets out "three mutually reinforcing sets of priority actions to address the immediate, near- and medium-term needs to protect people during and beyond the crisis, and – ultimately – to reshape and build resilient food systems." The response and rebuilding called for in this brief will require commitment from government, business and civil society. A summary of these three sets of priority actions are below but it is certainly reading through the document for more detail on each area. 

Mobilise to save lives and livelihoods, focusing attention where the risk is most acute:

Although we cannot yet fully predict the precise impacts of the unfolding crisis, we can determine the likely channels of transmission and anticipate impacts on the most vulnerable populations. We can take commensurate action to support people in a time of great need. These actions should include investment in tools that can enhance crisis response now and in the future.

  • Preserve critical humanitarian food, livelihood and nutrition assistance to vulnerable groups – augmented and adapted to anticipated COVID-19 impacts.
  • Declare food production, marketing, and distribution as essential services everywhere, ensure the protection of these workers and keep the trade corridors open within and among nations to ensure the continuous functioning of the critical aspects of food systems in all countries.
  • Expand near-real time food security monitoring systems to provide timely, improved and geospatially indicative data to measure the pandemic’s unfolding effects and understand better who is suffering from hunger and malnutrition and where they are.
  • Ensure relief and stimulus packages reach the most vulnerable, including meeting the liquidity needs of smallscale food producers and rural businesses, particularly those led by women and young people, and are supported at the international level in a coordinated manner that is responsive to evolving national financing needs.
Strengthen social protection systems for nutrition:

Given the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic, social protection systems will become the mainstay for hundreds of millions of people for the duration of the current crisis and possibly beyond.

  • Food and nutrition assistance needs to be at the heart of social protection programmes to protect food access for the most vulnerably by increasing their purcahsing power and, where necessary, by directly providing food through government or community-based programmes.
  • Strengthen the health system response for nutritional care to ensure the continuity of nutrition services, particularly the early detection and community-based management of acute malnutrition and infant and young child feeding, as well as related maternal nutrition programmes.
  • Protect the most vulnerable population groups, as well as women who play key roles in the household and essential services delivery and support children who no longer have access to school meals.
  • Tailor nutrition-sensitive social protection programmes and consider the potential benefits of different transfer modalities; in-kind, cash, or vouchers as well as public food distribution systems should be designed to ensure access to diverse, balanced and nutritious meals.
Invest in a sustainable future:

Accelerated investment should be a pillar of the COVID-19 response, aiming for immediate impact to sustain and improve livelihoods, while also preparing for a more inclusive, environmentally sustainable and resilient food system. Investment both during and after the COVID crisis can accelerate movement toward food systems that are more resilient to future pandemics and that offer better protections for all. The goal should be a food system that is in balance with the needs of the global population and the limits of our planet. Investments in COVID-19 response and recovery needs to be leveraged to deliver on that longer-term goal of a more inclusive and sustainable world, including by: 

  • Transforming food systems so they work better with nature and for the climate. 
  • Laying the foundation for a more inclusive, green and resilient recovery by ensuring COVID-19 dedicated resources are used in a “build to transform” approach and are evidence-based.
  • Using the opportunity of the Secretary-General hosted Food Systems Summit in 2021, and the preparatory process, for inclusive dialogues and mobilizing multi-stakeholder action necessary to end hunger, and improve the health and well-being of people and planet.


Read the full brief here: Policy Brief: The impact of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition

This resource presents evidence or data but has not been peer reviewed