The Future of Food Security in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic
The following is an excerpt from a new report by Willem Verhagen, David Bohl, Mallory Cannon, Andres Pulido, Audrey Pirzadeh, Iris Nott, and Jonathan D. Moyer. You can find the full report in the sidebar.
A large share of the global population today is food insecure, with 10.9 percent of the global population undernourished in 2019 and 23.0 percent of children under five affected by stunting. Safe and affordable access to a diverse, nutritious diet is a basic human need and human right, and food security is embedded in the much broader concept of human development, with linkages to economic growth, household income, environmental sustainability, inequality, child mortality, education, and access to safe water and sanitation. Evaluating progress toward eradicating food insecurity requires not only quantifying food security today but assessing the future of food security over the next decades.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already changed existing patterns of food security, but we have limited understanding of how this global crisis may affect food security in the future. Historically, economic, environmental, and conflict-related crises tend to worsen food security directly, with measurable lasting, sometimes cascading, effects over time. The COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to be an exception. Initial estimates suggest that 83 to 155 million more people around the world became undernourished in 2020, and child undernourishment and child mortality also rose dramatically. Studies so far have provided little information on the expected magnitude and pathways of the pandemic’s long-term impact on food security.
In this report, we use a scenario approach to assess how COVID-19 may affect food security for the next two decades, mapping potential effects of the pandemic in 185 countries to the year 2040. We use the International Futures (IFs) model, a global integrated assessment tool, to operationalize scenarios related to the impact of COVID-19 on development. We use these scenarios to quantify the potential range of food security impacts both globally and across ten regions of the world.
We develop two scenarios to assess the effects of COVID-19 on food security out to 2040. We model the effects of COVID-19 on long-term food security for these scenarios, mostly from 2020 to 2022, with some longer-lasting effects. These scenarios include changes to economic growth, income inequality, food access, government finances, and educational attainment. The COVID-19 Current Path scenario is our baseline scenario and is based on 2020 to 2022 gross domestic product growth rate estimates developed by the International Monetary Fund. The COVID-19 Unequal Paths scenario is more pessimistic, describing a world in which pandemic effects are predominantly felt by vulnerable countries. In the Unequal Paths scenario, gross domestic product growth is further reduced between 2020 and 2022, inequality worsens in countries with limited government capacity, and the effects of rising government debt fall particularly hard on countries that had low levels of debt sustainability before the pandemic. We also develop a counterfactual No-COVID scenario, projecting how food security is likely to have developed if the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred.