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Vegetable Market

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically increased food insecurity in the poorest and most vulnerable countries  served by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA). What does this mean for the kind of support these countries need and what is IDA doing to address this emerging crisis?

According to the World Food Programme, up to 96 million additional people were pushed into acute food insecurity in 2020 across 54 IDA countries. Added to the 137 million acutely food insecure people at the end of 2019 across these countries, this brings the total to 233 million people by the end of 2020. People living in fragile and conflict-affected situations are particularly at risk. World Bank projections (based on application of the findings from a stochastic model to predict food insecurity) suggest this could further increase to about 380 million in 2022.

More than half of the world population is currently under some form of social distancing to contain the health crisis. As a result, millions of businesses have had to close shop. With COVID-19 and its economic fallout now spreading in the poorest parts of the world, many more people will become poor and food-insecure. In a new scenario analysis, we estimate that globally, absent interventions, over 140 million people could fall into extreme poverty (measured against the $1.90 poverty line) in 2020—an increase of 20% from present levels. This in turn would drive up food insecurity. A global health crisis could thus cause a major food crisis—unless steps are taken to provide unprecedented economic emergency relief.

Under the assumptions (see box below), we project a downturn in global economic growth of 5% in 2020. This projection is broadly similar to the recent IMF forecast, which shows a downturn of the world economy from the 2%-3% growth anticipated pre-pandemic to an actual decline of 3%.

TABLE 1 : COVID -19 Economic Recession in 2020 ( April 2020 IFPRI Global Reference Scenario )

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Getting rid of food waste

Perhaps the first step is redistribution and reducing waste: shockingly, about 30% of food produced is never actually eaten  – and this figure has risen under COVID-19 with falling business demands and crumbling supply chains. The impacts of food waste go beyond overflowing bins. Between 2010 and 2016, food waste generated 10% of human-made gas emissions. 

As 85% of waste  is created ’downstream’ by consumer-facing businesses and households, the power of young people in shaping future patterns of consumption – buying food sourced as locally as possible and in only the required quantities – has never been more important.


Beyond the individual level, world leaders must examine where in the food system waste occurs and how best to address it, both globally and in national contexts. For example, 40% of food in developing countries goes to waste before reaching markets due to poor infrastructure and refrigeration.

So we see how food distribution is shaped by wider economic development processes, of which projects funding sustainable energy and travel must play an important part.


Other steps towards food security may include shifting subsidies towards crops such as millet rather than maize (as IIED discusses in episode four of the Make Change Happen podcast), and promoting good farming practices. However, the removal of physical barriers to food security is dwarfed by the challenge of raising incomes so the poorest can afford to access food – the most sustainable way to achieve this remains a debate in itself.


No young person should grow up affected by food insecurity. As climate change has an increasing impact on agriculture, meeting SDG 2 will require creative responses from young people in all aspects of the global food system, from improvements in production efficiency to more sustainable consumption. There should also be concerted efforts to keep trade channels open to avoid piling an unnecessary food price crisis on the current health and economic disasters facing the world. We

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