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Food Security in the era of global challenges: COVID-19 and Climate Change


Food security means that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life (United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security). Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, millions of people across the globe were already battling against food insecurity due to factors like extreme weather conditions that disrupt rainfed agriculture systems and increase the risk of pests and plant diseases. COVID-19 and climate change – crisis-within-a-crisis – create challenges for ensuring nutritional security, especially in emerging economies. 

According to the World Bank, food security hot spots include countries that are impacted by multiple crises resulting from more extreme and frequent weather events, pest and diseases such as the current locust plague which is the worst in recent history. Poor and vulnerable populations were food insecure before COVID-19 and are now at even greater risk with proposed trade restrictions on food and food price increases (World Bank 2020). 

Building resilient food systems

aWhere has 1.9 million virtual weather stations that cover the world’s daily weather since 2006. This asset enables us to look at extreme weather events as well as historical trends that helps countries quantify and visualize changing patterns. These insights empower governments and companies to adapt to climate change and ensure more resilient and productive food systems, even when shocks like COVID-19 strike society. 

The economic implications of COVID-19 and its associated impact on the food supply, incomes and employment through this year and into 2021 are still unknown. Given increased weather variability such as the floods in Kenya, adaptation and building resilience to climate change is key to reducing food import dependence of vulnerable countries by increasing domestic food production.

Over 135 million people in 2019 experienced food crises (IPC 2020). In order to fully understand this metric, local-level insight is necessary. Many global food security studies provide information at a low resolution or county-level distinction. aWhere can assist global food security reporting by providing insight at the local, farm level given its web of weather stations on a 9km grid – globally.

Food Security Tracker Updates

As part of the COVID, CLIMATE and FOOD series, we will provide an updated Global Food Security Tracker which shows the forecast of precipitation over potential evapotranspiration (P/PET) across aWhere’s 1.9 million virtual weather stations. Southeast Asia, parts of South America, the Midwest and Southern parts of the United States, and parts of East, Central, and West Africa will experience drier than normal conditions next week.

What are the food security implications from COVID-19?

“Covid-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread,” said Dr Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Programme (Guardian 2020). The Wall Street Journal reports that the current situation of the coronavirus pandemic hit the world at a time of plentiful harvests and ample food reserves. Yet a cascade of protectionist restrictions, transport disruptions and processing breakdowns has dislocated the global food supply and put the planet’s most vulnerable regions in particular peril (WSJ 2020). COVID-19 is interrupting trade, impacting food prices and threatening global food supply chains, causing food waste and reduced access to the most vulnerable families in our communities.


Trade is a critical factor for understanding food supply and its vulnerability to factors such as climate change (Columbia University 2020) and now COVID-19. Countries that are import-dependent, such as many sub-Saharan countries, are at a higher risk to adverse impacts of changing trade. With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we are now beginning to see just how vulnerable countries around the world truly are to global systemic disruptions as countries begin imposing trade restrictions including Russia, Ukraine, and Cambodia (Columbia University 2020). Additionally, some of the border policies in Africa have been shortsighted and have not taken into account local realities. For example, curfews in West Africa that do not allow border crossings at night impacts transportation of perishable goods such as fresh produce which cannot be easily transported during the heat of the day (IFPRI 2020). This causes high amounts of food waste and potential shortages. 

Food Prices

The limited movement of both people and increased unemployment rates are putting pressure on food supplies. Trade restrictions will trigger food shortages and inflate the prices of food, border closures and labor shortages can also disrupt food supply chains (UNGA President Bande). We can refer back to the lessons learned from the recession of 2008-2009 which caused spikes in food prices on staples like rice and wheat that resulted in food insecurity for millions.  

Food Supply chains

COVID-19 is disrupting agriculture and supply chains around the globe and it is quite possible that COVID-19 is likely to increase food prices, both as a cause and consequence of food shortages (IFPRI 2020). A recent study showed 75 percent of companies reported supply chain disruptions in some capacity due to coronavirus-related transportation restrictions (ISM 2020). Disruptions to food supply chains will impact local food security particularly of import-dependent countries. The food systems in these countries need to be strengthened to decrease their vulnerability to external shocks like climate change and COVID-19-related restrictions.

aWhere is committed to empowering countries and companies with local through to global weather analytics to plan for a resilient, sustainable and equitable food system –  now and into the future. 

Our next blog will investigate the impacts of COVID-19 and climate change in a particular region of the world. We can “zoom in” to understand what is happening at the farm-level.

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