Supporting the resilience and transformation of food systems at scale: more critical than ever in the face of COVID-19

Grain Sorter

SNV joins the world in fighting the negative effects of COVID-19.  As the pandemic evolves differently in each continent and country, the potential impacts on food and nutrition security, particularly in highly vulnerable areas and where populations are already experiencing food crises, is extremely worrying. Interventions to minimise the potential impact of the pandemic on all elements of the food system, from primary supply/ production, to processing, to trade as well as national and international logistics systems, to intermediate and final demand [1] are critically important at this time. Good nutrition and healthy diets are key to boosting immunity, mitigating infection and supporting recovery. Efforts to promote proper nutrition must be part of COVID-19 prevention strategies to build the resilience of communities.

Early data indicates that the mortality rates from COVID-19 may be higher for men, but the pandemic is having devastating social and economic consequences for women and girls. All measures that SNV considers to protect the food system and stimulate the economy also incorporates the gender and youth dimensions of the crisis and ensure that women and youth are specifically included and engaged. Stimulus packages drawn up by governments to counter the economic damage from COVID-19 offer a critical opportunity to ensure that the essential task of building a secure and climate resilient economy is put in place.  SNV’s focus on transforming food systems at scale is more relevant than ever. To provide safe and nutritious food for urban and rural populations, food systems need to be inclusive, sustainable and resilient. SNV pays particular attention to groups most at risk from the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes smallholder rural producers, women and girls, the urban poor and Small and Medium Enterprises in the food system.

SNV remains fully operational, implementing agriculture interventions in 25 countries across Asia, Africa and Central America. Our in-country teams have shifted to business continuity mode, and have a good view on how the crisis is developing in each locality, so that we can customise our responses.

Contribution to immediate response

In the short term, SNV has adapted its existing and ongoing programmes, which provide sufficient flexibility to enable tailored responses to COVID-19. Our response so far includes a focus on:

  • Rapid analytics and monitoring for accurate responses: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the related measures, high volatility is expected in agricultural value chains and food systems. For programs to respond they must be able to quickly and correctly assess situations (a rapid assessment tool is being developed jointly with Wageningen University);

  • Inputs and basic assets for production: securing accessible and affordable supply of inputs (including seed and fertilizer) and basic assets for farmers to avoid disruption of food production (f.i. business and finance support to agro input dealers; public private partnership programs with seed companies);

  • New modes of resilient supply chains: developing and rolling out new modes of resilient food supply chains; focusing on shorter supply chains and development of informal, local and regional markets, smart transport and market solutions including digital services to provide key information on production, finance and markets;

  • Selective and targeted SME support: supporting SMEs to respond to the crisis and unlock value chains and trade. Immediate support emphasises business continuity with both technical support and ensuring access to finance to overcome liquidity problems. This includes development and roll out of digitalisation of distribution and payment channels as well as mobile money initiatives;

  • Hygiene, health and safety in agri-chains and agribusiness: an important way to increase preparedness and reduce the health and business-related risks to future outbreaks will be to build hygiene measures into critical points of the key value chains of domestic and informal markets; and

  • Targeted food and nutrition programs: intensifying the promotion and public awareness of infant and young child feeding practices (IYCF); supporting the development of community management of acute malnutrition programme; intensifying preventive activities in food insecure contexts with limited access to an appropriate diet; roll-out of domestic food processing training and ensuring functioning local food supply systems; social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) activities prioritising hygiene and food safety messages.

Addressing structural vulnerabilities

Moving forward, while continuing our existing interventions in support of resilient, nutrition-sensitive and inclusive food systems as a critical element in responding to the longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, the current pandemic will inform proactive COVID-19 responses.

SNV will strengthen the resilience and robustness of food systems, safeguard food and nutrition security, particularly for women and girls and support youth employment in agriculture. All measures that SNV considers in order to protect the food system and stimulate the economy, will ensure that women and youth are included and engaged. SNV will ensure that intrahousehold dynamics continue to be a key element of design and implementation. SNV will further profile food safety in its work and will consider other markets that are needed to address food and nutrition insecurity including nutritious foods for school programmes. SNV will contribute to bridge the humanitarian-development nexus and will contribute to a policy dialogue reflecting on safeguarding food supply, consumption and markets at national and local level (e.g. importance of domestic production versus imports, importance of food sovereignty and self-reliance in food).  SNV will continue and strengthen the monitoring of key indicators to assess direct and secondary impacts of COVID-19 to inform planning and will engage in assessment, joint analysis and profiling with national and international partners to assess key value chains and formulate an informed response, focusing support to critically affected actors in the value chain. SNV will continue to participate in national dialogues and multi-stakeholder platforms.

FAO, 2020. COVID-19: Channels of transmission to food and agriculture.