The rapid global spread of the COVID-19 has demonstrated that no matter how successful America is at fighting this pandemic here at home, we will never stop this threat unless we’re also fighting it around the world. In this series of issue briefs, the USGLC takes an in depth look at the global response and COVID-19’s impacts on vulnerable populations, global development and diplomacy, and the future of U.S. global leadership. Read more from our series here.

Last updated April 6, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic increased global food insecurity in almost every country by reducing incomes and disrupting food supply chains. The pandemic had devastating effects on global hunger and poverty – especially on the poorest and most vulnerable populations. At the end of 2020, more than 155 million people were suffering from acute hunger due to conflict and instability and projections for 2021 indicate that trend will continue, with climate shocks and the pandemic exacerbating the situation further.

  • The UN warns three dozen countries – including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen – could experience famines in 2021, pushing an additional 130 million people to the brink of starvation.
  • The biggest locust invasion in 70 years in Africa is compounding the impact of COVID-19 and threatens to push 25 million East Africans into hunger by devastating food sources and costing billions of dollars in crop damage.
  • World Bank figures show remittances to low- and middle-income countries could drop at least 14 percent by 2021, resulting in an additional 33 million people at risk of hunger.

Supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 and increased consumer demand for food drastically raised food prices across the globe – exacerbating the severity of food insecurity for 821 million hungry people in low-income countries who already spend most of their income on food.

  • World food prices increased for the ninth straight month in February, hitting their highest levels since July 2014, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and rose by close to 20% in the last year (January 2020-January 2021).
  • The economic downturn due to the COVID-19 affected the availability and affordability of nutritious food. With nutrient-rich foods like eggs, fruits, and vegetables 10 times more expensive than staple foods like rice or wheat in sub-Saharan Africa, vulnerable families in low-income countries turned to cheaper and less nutritious food to survive – contributing to the rise in malnutrition and obesity.
  • Monthly food costs in Syria increased by 240 percent and the number of food insecure people increased by 1.4 million. South Sudan saw prices of wheat and cassava skyrocket by 62% and 41% since February 2020 and the price of maize in Kenya rose by 60% since 2019. The price of rice in Nigeria rose by more than 30% and food prices in Sudan tripled in March 2020. Ghana saw the price of basic food products jump by as much as 33%.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated child hunger and malnutrition as the pandemic forced more than 1 billion children out of school, depriving their access to nutritious meals.

  • 85 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean, who heavily relied on school feeding programs to combat malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, lost access to this crucial social safety net.
  • In South Africa, school closures stopped a national feeding program that provided nutritious meals to 9 million poor children.
  • The economic impact combined with disruptions to routine health services could result in deaths of 2.3 million children over the next year – a 45% increase in under-five child deaths per month. This is in addition to the nearly 3 million children who are already dying from malnutrition annually.

Working through Feed the Future programming and partnerships, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is addressing global food security:

  • In East Africa, Feed the Future is supporting measures to keep food and agricultural inputs moving across borders and from ports to inland countries, including strengthening safeguards for cross-border trade and protocols, using early warning systems to strengthen resilience, and addressing measures that restrict the flow of goods between countries.>
  • A Bangladesh program has gone digital, using a mobile application to reach its network of 150+ local service providers. Messages highlight safety, hygiene and social distancing principles for agricultural service providers and producers on their farms.
  • In Ghana, USAID is helping the government ramp up information campaigns via radio, TV and text messaging to sensitize farmers to COVID-19. Feed the Future and its partners are also developing a digital payment system and training farmers on how to leverage digital technology during this time.
  • In Mozambique, USAID has partnered with the Development Finance Corporation to provide loan guarantees to two local banks that unlock finance for companies that help get food from rural producers to urban consumers, such as transportation and storage providers.

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, The World Bank has been tackling rising food insecurity through tailored financing for new and existing projects:

  • In India, women’s self-help groups, supported under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission co-financed by the World Bank, mobilized to meet shortages in masks and sanitizers, run community kitchens and restore fresh food supplies, provide food and support to vulnerable and high-risk families, provide financial services in rural areas, and disseminate COVID-19 advisories among rural communities. These self-help groups, built over a period of 15 years, tap the skills of about 62 million women across India.
  • The Liberian government and the World Bank activated a Contingency Emergency Response Component (about $7.5 million) through the Smallholder Agriculture Transformation and Agribusiness Revitalization Project to meet immediate food needs of vulnerable people, keep domestic supply chains moving, and support smallholder farmers to increase food production.

Written by Sung Lee

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