Set up in April 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub provides a coordinated research response to the global pandemic, health and food systems worldwide, to local businesses and national economies.

The covid hub associates researchers from the CGIAR, partners and stakeholders in countries under 4 different working groups:

  1. Address value chain fractures
  2. Integrate a One Health approach to COVID-19 responses
  3. Support country COVID-19 responses
  4. Address food systems’ fragility and build back better

Working Group 4, coordinated by Vincent Gitz (Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry – FTA) has worked to identify the impacts of COVID-19 on food systems’ fragility and to investigate priority options and solutions to improve resilience and build back better, with a particular emphasis on vulnerable groups and countries. It adopted  a forward-looking lens, identifying the points of vulnerability but also the points of resilience of food systems, both in the immediate but also in the medium and long term response, looking at impacts to health, nutrition, livelihoods, and at links  the social and environmental systems.

In March 2021, it released the first world-level assessment on the impacts of COVID-19 on food security, led by Chris Bene (Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT). The food system, globally did not collapse, but COVID-19 was a major, large scale stressor to food systems worldwide, while also putting a spotlight on how some forms of organization of food systems, of urban and rural relations, can provide for resilience in times of crisis. The crisis did also force to revisit, with new lenses, important questions for the future of food, health and environment systems.

In parallel FTA launched a “COVID-19 Rapid Research Response” to better understand and assess the main impacts of COVID-19 and of pandemic response measures across the board, aiming at developing ways to build new resilience to the unprecedented. Detailed results of these studies were presented in a special seminar on the 6th of September.

Going forward, how to “build forward better”? To look at this, building on its initial work, WG4 undertook in 2021 a series of 6 innovative studies, to harness knowledge for designing better emergency responses, recovery, and to build resilience.

They key findings will be presented on a public webinar
on Friday 17 December from 2 to 4 pm CET.

  1. What role for governance, decision-making and crisis management mechanisms in explaining Food Systems outcomes during pandemic? How were managed the effects of the crisis on food systems? Were there specific mechanisms, how was it part of the overall management of the crisis? Were current governance arrangements used? Did novel governance arrangements (new working groups, intra-departmental crisis teams, etc.) in the food systems domain emerge during the COVID-19 crisis and were these effective or responsive in dealing with the crisis? To which degree can the emergence of novel governance arrangements be viewed as a function of specific institutional characteristics at country-level? Did current or novel governance arrangements predate the emergence of novel of innovative (and more effective) policy instruments in the food systems domain, or not? Which key recommendations emerge for preparing countries to better manage large-scale (societal) disruptions and their impact on food systems?  This will be presented by Marjolein Selten from Wageningen University and Research.
  2. Why isn’t disease surveillance working in low and medium income countries? Surveillance systems do exist, but they are partial, often paper-based, not risk-targeted and most importantly not integrated across sectors. One Health is a relatively new paradigm that predicated that the health of humans, animals and the environment are closely linked and interdependent.  But can we we better understand the existing distribution and emergence of diseases that arise in food systems in order to reduce the cost of their control? How to improve existing surveillance systems across the human health, animal health and environment domains, taking into account incentives and disincentives for disease reporting at every level? This will be presented by Delia Randolph and Alma Dogra (ILRI).
  3. Several aspects of the food environment have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis –food accessibility, proximity, convenience, stability, etc. What interventions, changes in behaviour or strategies adopted in response to the shocks have contributed to reduce the negative impacts of the pandemic on those actors and processes? How can we improve the food environment to make our food systems more resilient to shocks and crises?
  4. Production diversification is often found to increase farm resilience and diversification of risk management strategies positively contributes to resilience. Diversification can reduce risks of disruption in supply chains (processors, retailers, sellers, etc.). But some forms of diversification can also be maladaptive and may reduce resilience capacity. Does diversification of production and consumption markets contribute to more resilient food systems? Which shocks and stressors can be better absorbed in case of higher diversity? What are the drivers and conditions of enhanced food system diversity? This will be presented by Chris Bene (Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT).
  5. In the COVID-19 crisis, urban poor were considered most food insecure, due to a combination of income loss and reduced physical access to stores. But we have still a limited understanding on the channels and “the hidden middle” through which food moves from rural producers to urban consumers. What are the mechanisms through which improved urban-rural linkages may enhance food system resilience, and what are relevant policy responses? Does strengthening interconnectivity between urban and rural areas as well as mobility of human capital bring  positive effects on food system employment and the capacity to respond to shocks and stressors of wage labourers? Can stronger urban-rural linkages be associated with higher levels of labour mobility in terms of workers returning (temporarily) to rural areas to secure their livelihoods in times of negative impacts of shocks, and is it a good thing to improve overall resilience? This will be presented by Anne Sonneveld and Ezra Berkhout (Wageningen University and Research)
  6. The COVID19 pandemic showed that we need to be prepared for the unexpected, when it comes to the future of our food systems, and the shocks they may suffer. What can we learn from the COVID-crisis in terms of foresight of agri-food systems? Do we need to alter some of our big hypothesis regarding the future of food, key drivers and consequences? What kind of shocks to agri-food systems are likely to create more harm? What are lessons to best help countries deal about it? THis will be presented by Gideon Kruseman (CIMMYT).

Will follow a panel to discuss what the findings mean for research. Is it back to business-as-usual or do we need to be shifting cards? Will covid lead to new priorities for research and development?

The Panel will be moderated by John McDermott, Director, CGIAR Research on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) and Leader, CGIAR COVID-19 Hub.

  • Frank Place, PIM director and Coordinator of the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub Working Group on Addressing value chain fractures.
  • Jo Lines, LSHTM, Coordinator of CGIAR COVID-19 Hub Working Group on Integrating a One Health approach to COVID-19 responses.
  • Oluchi Ezekannagha, Coordinator of the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub Working Group on Supporting country COVID-19 responses.
  • Andy Jarvis, Deputy Director General of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.


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