CGIAR COVID Hub Focus: Addressing Food Systems’ Fragilities and Building Back Better


The COVID-19 pandemic and government-implemented control measures may result in fundamental changes to the way people access food. In anticipation of this, the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub aims to leverage ongoing work to adopt a forward-looking lens. Alongside addressing short- and medium-term critical needs, the Hub recognizes the importance of focusing on food systems' fragilities in the medium- and longer-term to ensure attention to health, nutrition, environmental and system sustainability, and inclusion and socioeconomics, while strengthening links to other systems, such as social, business, and environmental.

To accomplish this, one must first map the impacts of COVID-19 on food systems, food security, and nutrition and understand key fragility points as well as underlying vulnerabilities. The crisis calls for building back better, in two key ways:

  1. Making sectors more resilient to shocks (including climate, economic, pandemic, and civil); and
  2. Using this crisis as an opportunity to make food systems more sustainable and inclusive.

CGIAR researchers are working to consider possible evolutions of consumption patterns, expected technological breakthroughs (digitalization, robotization, alternative proteins, food safety requirements) and adjustments in social innovation systems around food, such as trust, reliability, collective action, and public sector confidence.

Over the medium- to long-term phases of the pandemic, researchers plan to map key fragility points of COVID-19 and underlying food system vulnerabilities, including analyses of the food system drivers exacerbating the health impacts of COVID-19, such as air contamination by pesticides and crop burning; poverty of agricultural workers; obesity, diabetes, or malnutrition; and the trade-offs between productivity and sustainability. They will estimate the impacts of COVID-19 in different types of agriculture and food systems, and identify solutions to the issues for the various actors affected, while also developing tools, recommendations, and capacity-building resources to integrate risk prevention and management into food systems, and analyzing longer-term issues of economic stability.

They expect to be able to identify the impacts of COVID-19 on food consumption, diets and livelihoods in developing countries and integrate prioritized, sustainable production and consumption solutions to improve resilience, add to knowledge on food systems’ fragility, and provide concrete recommendations on how to address vulnerabilities and reinforce resilience in the mid-term response, with particular emphasis on vulnerable groups and country priorities. Incorporating this new knowledge into foresight modelling will enable food systems to build back better.

Members of the working group Addressing Food System Fragilities and Building Back Better include:

Research in this area targets goals outlined in all four research pillars of the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub:

Learn more about CGIAR work on COVID-19 here or by contacting us at


Recent work on addressing food system fragilities and building back better from across CGIAR:

Report: First world-level assessment of the impacts of COVID-19 on food security

CGIAR COVID-19 Hub researchers have conducted the first retrospective assessment of the pandemic’s impacts on food security completed at a global scale. Their findings also shed light on considerations for building back more resilient food systems.

Learn more

Read the report

Event: Food Systems Lessons from COVID-19

This March 2 event co-hosted by the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub and IFPRI explored findings from the first world-level assessment of COVID-19 on food security, and what it means for food systems resilience.

Learn more about the event

New Studies: From the CGIAR GENDER Platform

The CGIAR GENDER Platform has commissioned four new research projects to investigate and generate evidence on the different ways that COVID-19 impacts women and men in food systems. The projects, running until March 2022, will develop and share evidence-based recommendations for how to ensure development efforts can underpin—not undermine—gender equality.

Learn more about the studies.

Study: Survey of 9000 smallholders finds COVID-19 pandemic is causing hunger

Researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute, in partnership with One Acre Fund, interviewed more than 9000 smallholder farmers in nine countries to find out how the COVID-19 pandemic and associated containment measures — the shutdowns, mobility restrictions, and market disruptions — have affected small food producers in low-income countries.

Read the blog and explore the study

Policy Seminar: How Can We Re-Orient Food and Health Systems to Protect Nutrition and Healthy Diets in the Context of COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic — and the related economic crisis and disrupted food and health systems — will likely severely worsen all forms of malnutrition globally, with micronutrient deficiencies, child wasting and stunting, and overweight and obesity all expected to surge. This IFPRI-A4NH seminar focused on anticipated impacts on maternal and child nutrition, diets, reach of nutrition interventions, and mortality, with speakers reflecting on positive adaptations that could help rebuild stronger health, economic, and food systems, and thereby protect nutrition and health.

View the seminar

News: Africa is Facing a Food Crisis Due to COVID-19. These Seeds Could Help Prevent It

COVID-19 adds challenges to farmers across sub-Saharan Africa who are already struggling with floods, drought, pests and diseases. Emergency relief must look beyond just food to be consumed now, to also include high-quality seed for future harvests. CGIAR scientists from ICRISAT argue that supplying certified seed for nutritious crops that are treasured in traditional African diets is one of the cheapest and most effective ways of achieving future food security.

Read their analysis

Issue Brief: Gender-Sensitive Social Protection A Critical Component of the COVID-19 Response in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

As social protection programs and systems adapt to mitigate against the COVID-19 crisis, gender considerations are likely to be overlooked in an urgent effort to save lives and provide critical economic support. Yet past research and learning indicates that small adaptations to make program design and implementation more gender-sensitive may result in overall and equality-related gains. Experts from IFPRI and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets, and their colleagues, detail these adaptations across five areas of implementation.

Read their analysis

Op-Ed: COVID-19 is Telling Us That It's Time for Global Systems Change -- Starting with Water

As people around the world work to understand the implications of the pandemic, it’s clear that water is central not only to these systems, but also to our ability to respond to COVID-19, restore growth and build resilience in a post-pandemic world. Scientists from IWMI make the argument in this op-ed published in Ensia.

Read their perspective

Op-Ed: Stop Waiting to Get Back to Normal

In this piece, Kanayo Nwanze, CGIAR Special Representative to the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, lays out the argument for why building back better starts with transforming food systems.

Read the essay

Blog: COVID-19 and Resilience Innovations in Food Supply Chains

In this blog, Johan Swinnen, IFPRI Director General, and Thomas Reardon, Professor, Michigan State University, summarize early experiences in international and domestic supply chains across various types of firms and commodities, review a range of innovations developed to keep supply chains running, and make recommendations on facilitating continued innovation to speed the recovery and ensure better food supplies post-pandemic.

Read their perspective

Study: Giving Voice to the Voiceless: How COVID-19 is Impacting Nairobi Slum Residents, In Their Own Words

A joint study between the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and Twiga Foods analyzed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the consumption of nutritious foods, food security and diets of residents of the Kibera and Mathare slums as well as middle-income residents in Nairobi, Kenya. The researchers captured residents’ experiences through a series of interviews.

Read their stories