COVID-19 was first detected as a human disease in China in late-2019 and then spread very rapidly to all parts of the world, rich and poor. The number of people infected globally and the death toll skyrocketed during 2020 and continues to rise in 2021. In addition to the people directly affected by the disease, many more are affected indirectly through the lockdown measures implemented in most countries, the resulting economic downturn, and associated losses of jobs and income-earning opportunities. Especially in poor countries, where social safety nets hardly exist, poverty and food insecurity are on the rise, reversing the positive development trends observed during the last few decades. Preliminary projections based on global economic outlooks suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may have added more than 100 million people to the ranks of the undernourished in the short and medium run, making achievement of the zero hunger goal by 2030 rather unlikely.
This lecture by Professor Matin Qaim from the University of Göttingen reviews projected global trends in hunger and undernutrition and analyzes the main reasons for people’s worsened access to nutritious foods and healthy diets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Case-study examples from various high-income and developing countries is presented. Furthermore, important lessons learned on how to reduce pandemic risks and make local and global food systems more resilient to future shocks are discussed. It is shown that popular calls – such as focusing on local/regional production, reducing international food trade, and curbing the use high-yielding agricultural technologies – may actually be counterproductive. More diverse, productive, efficient, and open food systems and a stronger focus on poverty reduction and social safety nets will be required to address the various challenges ahead, including climate change, possible future pandemics, and continued population growth.