Livelihoods, Food Security, Nutrition, and COVID-19


  • Gunjan Veda – Movement for Community-led Development, and Nelly Mecklenburg – Institute for State Effectiveness


  • Karina Sánchez Bazán – FAO Mexico
  • Abdon Michel Lunda – Outreach DRC

Livelihoods, Food Security, and Nutrition vs. COVID-19

Continuing the dialogue that started with our Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogue (, this month’s Adapting CLD to COVID-19 call focused on the the short and long term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security and livelihoods, and how these can be addressed through community development. Participants discussed innovative approaches and long-term adaptations that governments, NGOs, and CSOs could use to build food systems resilient to future crises. Food security and livelihoods was one of four key themes identified by call participants for CLD programming to refocus on after COVID-19. The others included: mental health, Gender-Based Violence, and climate change.

Before hearing from our presenters, Gunjan Veda summarized the most striking takeaways from our Independent Dialogue. In order to build more resilient food systems in the face of COVID-19, Movement members advised that governments need to provide more policy incentives, like subsidies, to support local and community-led food systems. Policies need to be adapted to better incorporate, represent, and support young people and indigenous populations. Governments must take extra policy steps to support women, improve gender-sensitive data collection, and ultimately improve gender equity. Finally, smallholder farms should build connections and networks amongst themselves to improve their collective bargaining power, and to support one another through shocks to their food systems.

New Challenges Raised by COVID-19

Abdon Michel Lunda opened his presentation by addressing characteristics that made some food systems more vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. Michel explained how communities that rely on trade and imports for food were especially vulnerable as virus-mitigation strategies closed borders and markets. For example, Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s third-largest city, had relied heavily on food imports from Zambia until the pandemic. Stay-at-home measures have also prevented many people from going to work or generating income from day labor. In the DR Congo and elsewhere, government responses to COVID have led to increased food insecurity and prices. 

Karina Sánchez Bazán emphasized the gravity of COVID-19’s impact on global food systems by sharing a few figures from FAO, and explained that the pandemic may have set back world efforts to end hunger and poverty by decades. By early FAO estimates, the pandemic could already have forced 83-132 million more people into hunger. In Latin America, food prices, food insecurity, and food waste have all increased, despite governments’ efforts to strengthen the production of food systems. 

Low-Cost, High-Impact Solutions

Focusing on the work that Outreach DRC has done, Michel detailed a number of low-cost, high-impact interventions that have been successful. Outreach DRC reported that the expected result of these projects “is a total income of $13,119 for seven community-based organizations in an 18-month period to provide support for 296 families.” These ongoing projects have included efforts to improve food distribution, income generation, and agricultural production. Allocating temporary funds for distribution of corn, flour, and rice helped ensure that everyone in a community could eat. Distributing food at the community level like this enabled communities to implement more sustainable solutions. Outreach DRC helped facilitate income generation through support for small business activities: purchasing carts-for-hire, manufacturing bricks, and selling dry fish were only a few examples of the kinds of activities that simultaneously create profit for community members and help with food distribution. Finally, agricultural production can be improved through the purchase of inputs like fertilizer and seeds for high-yield crops for community-led farms. 

Recovery & Building Back Better

The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on communities and their food systems around the world. Beyond the virus itself, millions more people now face unemployment, poverty, and hunger. Between 2019 and 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean alone, unemployment increased by 18 million, poverty increased by 45 million, and the number of hungry people increased by 20 million (FAO based on ECLAC (2020c)). These impacts will likely far outlast the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still far from over in many countries, however Karina explained how the post-pandemic recovery phase could offer a silver lining. COVID has forced communities to become more self-reliant and shock-resistant. Communities everywhere are recognizing the need to transform food systems to include social, economic, and environmental dimensions. As governments in many countries move to rebuild economic and food systems in the coming months and years, we must take the opportunity to create better and more resilient systems that can handle future risks. 

Karina outlined more of the concrete Rebuild & Transform initiatives that the FAO has applied in Latin America as well. Successful interventions included the provision of public goods, infrastructure, and funding in communities that are struggling to recover post-pandemic, the development of digital marketing tools for smallholder and community food producers, modernized wholesale markets that are friendlier to small farms, and climate-smart livestock farming. Building back better means transforming food systems to empower community-led food production. 

Breakout Group 1

This group discussed different emergency measures enacted by various governments in response to COVID, and the need to design more resilient food systems. Food insecurity varied greatly during the pandemic. Communities that produced their own food seemed less-severely affected by the pandemic, so the group discussed ways to encourage agricultural development within local communities.

Breakout Group 2

Group 2 discussed several mitigation measures to address food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic, including cost-sharing schemes for seeds and direct food distribution. A participant from Zambia explained how their organization pivoted from serving regular lunchtime meals to providing families with 3-4 weeks of food at a time so they could stay home. However, such measures are ineffective in the long-run, as most individuals who are food insecure need to leave their homes to earn a livelihood. In addressing the issue of food security in the long-term, multiple participants emphasized the importance of scaling up and improving local agriculture value chains. As food is often sorted, cleaned and packaged elsewhere, those who cultivate food often enjoy few benefits from the sale, and non-farming agriculture opportunities are limited in communities. However, the pandemic may provide an opportunity to expand CSO-government engagement on this topic, as COVID-19 has exhibited the prevalence of food insecurity and the acute vulnerability of citizens to crisis events.

Breakout Group 3

During the COVID call on June 9, 2021, Group 3 discussed a variety of issues related to food security and livelihoods. On the prompt of food insecurity and livelihood losses this year, the group heard stories from Zambia, Honduras, and Liberia amongst others. A consensus was formed around the need to support small-scale farming practices particularly in regions where the government is unable to intervene. To address this issue, the group heard of the role of NGOs in Zambia that went above and beyond to send rural communities seeds and livestock to ensure a means to an income. On the question of sustainability in supporting those impacted by COVID, the practice of seed banks and their utilization in Mexico was brought up. The group received this idea well and discussed its potential to be implemented in a variety of countries particularly where seed variety is limited. This breakout ended with a call for more change in higher-level policy. Many developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, have subsidies in place that hamper local food production and innovation. A call for the government to implement more robust systems to support local communities and small-scale farmers can fill the gap and prevent wider food insecurities.

The call wrapped up with a brief look at upcoming MCLD events, including the June 30th global MCLD call on the Triple Nexus of humanitarian, development, and peace, as well as the next MCLD COVID call, which will focus on climate action and natural resource management. At CBA15, hosted by IIED, MCLD and our partners will host three separate sessions on June 16th and 17th to cover our CLD Assessment tool as well as monitoring and evaluation strategies for ensuring community ownership. MCLD will also host training sessions at the beginning of July with our CLD Assessment tool with our partners in Benin and Francophone West Africa. Finally, MCLD will facilitate and host a series of sector dialogues this summer to discuss the role of CLD in sectors like climate, WASH, education, justice, livelihoods and food security.