The effects of COVID-19 on food systems: rapid assessments

Seed sector alert - Credit: WCDI, Lex Schmeets

The effects of COVID-19 on food systems: rapid assessments

Stakeholders in seed and other agricultural sectors are facing critical challenges to their normal activities. Without fast and informed action, the COVID-19 crisis risks becoming a global food crisis. Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and partners are collaborating to identify priority steps for enhancing food systems’ resilience in low and middle income countries.

Currently, measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 are hampering the access and use of quality seed at a crucial time of the year for many countries. By framing clear and actionable alerts, WUR enables decision-makers across government and industry to focus on measures that get quality seed where it needs to be. The rapid assessments and stakeholder discussions are of crucial importance to ensure food security in low and middle income countries, where loss of access to food is at stake now that COVID-19 measures are in place.

Country and sector assessments

Targeted alerts to guide decisions

At WUR, the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) team plus teams that focus on dairy, horticulture, sesame and potato production are working with strategic partners in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda to generate a first set of targeted alerts.

Through the survey and focus group discussions direct ‘alerts’ are generated. These show i.e. that the measures the government have implemented to combat the spread of the virus are reducing market access for seed producers, agro-dealers and farmers, that prices are increasing and becoming unaffordable for farmers, that quality assurance process are hampered and that early generation seed production is hindered. Planting in Nigeria happens in May and June, so it is critical that urgent actions ensure farmers can get seed.

Each alert is accompanied with priority actions that in-country partners say are critical to keep the sector moving as well as recommendations for who should be involved in action and which sector stakeholder needs to take what steps. The assessment process takes place over the course of a week and is planned to be repeated on a monthly basis, meaning that seed sector partners share in the development of suitable responses in an ongoing and collaborative process.

Dashboard for policy makers

Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (WCDI) implements sector transformation programmes in low and middle income countries, turning ‘knowledge into action’. Collaborating with strong networks of local and international partners, WCDI has been able to act quickly and facilitate local assessment teams to generate data.

The assessments are based on a model of sector transformation that WCDI uses in current programmes. The assessment starts with seed sector stakeholders completing a mobile phone based survey and probes changes in every function of the sector. WCDI’s country partners establish a panel of diverse stakeholders from across the sector. Focus group discussions explore and agree on urgent actions to priority points as discovered in the survey. The assessment is completed by publishing a seed alert with a dashboard, which is also sent directly to policy-makers, key industry bodies and others across the national seed sector.

Model for other sectors

Combining speed and reliability, the process is proving valuable for sector stakeholders. Now, similar alerts are being developed to cover the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the functioning of the horticultural and sesame sectors in multiple countries in Africa. Alerts for potato and dairy sectors are being considered as well. These are sectors in developing countries and emerging economies in which WCDI, other WUR institutes and principal partner SNV Netherlands Development Organization are active in programmes financed by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Working with a similar model in various sectors and countries over time gives important insights in the impact of the crisis on food systems at national, regional and global levels

The focus now is to help sectors to deal with the current crisis. But in the longer term, WUR hopes that the process will inform its collective work on developing resilient food systems, so that future pandemics and other disruptions such as the effects of climate change won’t carry the same risks of hunger and malnutrition.

Visit the WCDI website for all rapid assessments.