Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic

In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, CGIAR drew on its resources, assets, and tools to conduct COVID-19-relevant research as part of a rapid and impactful response plan. In 2021, CGIAR research addressed the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and evaluated effective responses to build resilience and foster recovery.

CGIAR made publicly available its analyses of the impact of COVID-19 and research-based solutions to enable informed decisions and guide public sector programs seeking to improve food system responses and social protection.

At the global level, CGIAR continued working together with United Nations (UN) agencies and other development partners to understand the multifaceted impacts of the pandemic and form an effective and evidence-based response.

In 2021, CGIAR kept up its rapid response through the COVID-19 Hub, which:

  • Articulated a set of prioritized areas of work on COVID-19 response, recovery, and longer-term resilience.
  • Provided a systemwide entry point on COVID-19 for partners and funders.
  • Delivered an active intelligence service to the CGIAR System Board on COVID-19 impacts and priority responses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the health, environmental, social, and economic risks generated by the global food system. CGIAR’s role in helping to transform the food system remains more critical and urgent than ever.


CGIAR COVID-19 research

In 2021, CGIAR’s Research Programs (CRPs) and Platforms continued adapting to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers prioritized the ongoing crisis and supported stakeholders to build longer-term resilience.

CRPs and Platforms adapted research, capacity building, collaboration methods, and budgets to meet the challenging circumstances posed by the pandemic.

Lockdowns, travel restrictions, and other public health safety measures continued to affect the work of CRPs and Platforms in 2021. Some data collection activities were started or resumed, but these situations were not consistent and depended on national and institutional policies. Restrictions on movement and physical gatherings also impacted policy support and capacity building.

The pandemic still largely restricted labor, including fieldwork and in-person surveys. Local partners took responsibility for implementing fieldwork, with virtual support provided by researchers. As demand for germplasm surged to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, the CGIAR Genebank Platform relied on assistance from partners and invested in automated irrigation equipment to protect harvests amid ongoing movement restrictions.

In-person data collection methods were replaced by phone or virtual interviews and surveys. The CRP on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) analyzed phone data from India and Nepal to understand how COVID-related lockdowns affected women’s access to agricultural extension. In Myanmar, researchers from the CRP on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) carried out surveys to monitor the pandemic’s impacts on income, food insecurity, and diets, as well as short- and long-term welfare.

Pandemic-related disruptions to the global supply chain continued to drive prices upward in 2021, affecting CGIAR research activities and partners. In response to rising prices of genotyping and consumables, the Excellence in Breeding Platform actively engaged with vendors and key stakeholders to ensure proper mitigation, while finding ways to streamline and reduce administrative expenses.

CRPs and Platforms relied on virtual and hybrid methods to ensure that research and capacity development continued without interruption. Most trainings, webinars, and other engagement activities were carried out online in 2021. For example, A4NH adjusted their implementation of extension and other planned activities to use digital platforms, virtual trainings, radio, and television broadcasts. Researchers from the CRP on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) transitioned from in-field capacity building to a series of online e-learning modules that shared insights, tools, and approaches to better anticipate and actively manage synergies and trade-offs.

The Platform on GENDER reported that by hosting their flagship conference “Cultivating Equality: Advancing Gender Research in Agriculture and Food Systems” entirely online, they were able to reach more participants through live and recorded sessions, including participants who would not have otherwise had time or funding to attend. Although online engagement was critical to maintaining progress, many noted that restrictions on in-person gatherings remained a major challenge.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented opportunities to work in different ways. Changes to working methods and improvement plans developed during the pandemic will need to be reviewed as travel seems likely to resume in 2022.

In 2021, CGIAR and its Centers continued to revise priorities, along with adapting research, capacity building, collaboration methods, and budgets to meet the changed circumstances presented by the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to change the way we use our natural resources, manage agricultural production, and design food systems. The global crisis also emphasizes the importance of global collaboration around open science, data sharing, digital tools, and leveraging computational power to accelerate research. The kinds of data and analytics now available have significantly improved our ability to understand such crises. At the same time, the Platform on Big Data in Agriculture noted that the ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19 have emphasized the need for more interoperable and available data, especially as programs continued to have limited access to the field.

In 2021, CRPs and Platforms built upon ongoing analyses of COVID-19 impacts and initiated new studies to better understand the pandemic’s impacts on food systems, diets and nutrition, and poverty.

Several CRPs undertook research to assess the effectiveness of policy actions taken in response to the pandemic. Within the CRP on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM), an evaluation of the delivery of social protection programs in the context of COVID-19 in Africa revealed that many poor Africans did not receive sufficient assistance during the pandemic, despite swift adjustments to existing social protection programs and the launch of many new initiatives.

In Asia, researchers from the CRPs on Maize (MAIZE) and Wheat (WHEAT) assessed the impacts of initial responses on major farming and food systems in 25 countries. Government policies that prioritized food availability and affordability contributed to moderate resilience within these systems.

In 2021, several CRPs focused on analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on value chains. PIM researchers published findings from several studies launched in 2020/2021 to assess the effects of COVID-19 on coffee in Guatemala and Ethiopia, vegetables and dairy in Ethiopia, fruits and vegetables in Kenya, fish in Ghana, India and Nigeria, maize in Uganda, potato in Bangladesh, cassava in Vietnam and Cambodia, grape in India, and dairy and artichoke in Egypt.

In collaboration with the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub (hosted by A4NH), researchers from WHEAT and MAIZE analyzed the most critical, immediate effects of COVID-19 for different kinds of agricultural systems and their associated value chains in Central America and Mexico.

A farmer on her way to the market in Ethiopia. Photo by ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet.

To better understand the impact of the pandemic on agricultural production systems, natural resources, and resilience, PIM scientists compared COVID-19 coping strategies among rural households in three Indian States, finding that villages included in a large-scale common land restoration program led by the NGO Foundation for Ecological Security were more resilient than the others.

In Bangladesh, scientists from the CRP on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) studied the effects of COVID-19 on livelihood outcomes. The CRP on Livestock (LIVESTOCK) examined the pandemic’s effects on GHG emissions from livestock systems in northern Kenya using proxy data and a framework based on changes in herd size, feed availability, and livestock movement.

CGIAR scientists in 2021 focused their assessments on the pandemic’s effects on nutrition and food security. A4NH researchers provided specific recommendations on mitigating the pandemic’s long-term effects on diets and nutrition.

The CRP also presented three modelling scenarios to estimate the impacts of pandemic-induced disruptions on child stunting, wasting and mortality, maternal anemia, and children born to women with a low body mass index in 118 low- and middle-income countries. Researchers also estimated the cost of six nutrition interventions to mitigate excess stunting and child mortality because of the pandemic.

Early investment in COVID-19 research by the CRP on Fish Agri-food Systems (FISH) leveraged additional funding for six projects tracking the impacts of COVID-19 on aquatic food supply chains in India, Nigeria, Kenya, and Egypt. FISH researchers also built upon research initiated in 2020 to evaluate the medium-term impacts of COVID-19 through surveys with respondents from aquaculture and fisheries value chains.

In 2021, the CRP on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) continued its research on shocks to urban food systems in Sri Lanka. In Ghana, WLE researchers evaluated the response of stakeholders to COVID-19 in the water and sanitation sector, making recommendations to further strengthen resilience.

A farmer in Indonesia. Photo by CGIAR/CIFOR

The gendered impacts of COVID-19 were assessed in 2021. In partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the GENDER Platform evaluated the effects of different policies and support measures in Africa on women’s incomes, assets, livelihoods, food and nutrition security, and personal agency. The Platform recommended specific policy and programmatic actions to address gender-differentiated needs in the agricultural sector when responding to crises and cohosted a high-level policy dialogue with IFPRI, which included attendees from the African Union Commission, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Senegal Ministry of Agriculture.

Within LIVESTOCK, scientists using a One Health approach supported Kenya’s Ministry of Health to sequence the entire genome of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and monitor different variants within the country. In Nairobi, researchers launched a sewage surveillance study to explore opportunities for mapping risk, which may become increasingly important as COVID-19 becomes endemic.

CGIAR research was used to inform policy decisions in 2021. Building on past PIM investments in economywide tools and social accounting matrices, PIM scientists continued using multiplier models to assess policy responses to COVID-19 and the pandemic’s short-term impacts in more than 20 countries. PIM researchers engaged closely with the Governments of Egypt, Myanmar, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Africa to identify policy priorities to support recovery.

PIM scientists used IFPRI’s global general equilibrium model to examine the global impacts of COVID-19, suggesting that the global recession caused by COVID-19 will be much deeper than the 2008–2009 financial crisis. Almost 150 million people are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty, with more severe impacts in urban areas.

In 2021, CGIAR scientists assessed the pandemic’s effects on nutrition, food security, and livelihoods, providing insights that will inform future policy decisions.


COVID-19’s economic impacts on the Somaliland livestock sector

In Somaliland, the northwestern region of Somalia, the livestock sector plays an important socioeconomic role in the local economy, particularly through export revenues. In 2020, Saudi Arabia imposed a partial ban on livestock imports from Somalia because of animal health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, the CRP on Livestock (LIVESTOCK) undertook a study to better understand the impacts of Saudi Arabia’s import restrictions on Somaliland’s livestock sector. This study quantified the economic losses associated the current partial livestock ban (started in November 2016) on Somali imports and the added impacts associated with COVID.

LIVESTOCK researchers estimate that the cumulative losses for Somaliland’s livestock sector and government are US$770 million over a five-year period. The additional losses imposed by the COVID pandemic were estimated to be US$42 million.

Livestock producers, who are mainly pastoralists, are the most affected stakeholder group, incurring around 54% of the total losses. The study highlights the multifaceted, and often overlooked, socioeconomic and sociocultural impacts faced by the livestock sector and general economy in the wake of public health restrictions.


Assessing the pandemic’s effects on agricultural value chains around the world

In March 2020, the CRP on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) launched the “COVID-19 Rapid Research Response” to better assess the main impacts of COVID-19 and of pandemic response measures, with the aim of developing ways to build resilience amid an unprecedented situation. In 2021, FTA presented the results of these studies in a special seminar.

FTA’s research showed that although COVID-19-related restrictions disrupted agricultural value chains, with negative effects on farmers, the findings defied a uniform narrative. Limited mobility reduced trade and created shortages within value chains, but it also led to lower demand for products as households changed their habits in response to the new conditions.

As pandemic restrictions extended over time, households struggled to cope with significantly lower incomes. Farmers heavily dependent on the shea nut farming value chain were hit hard by the pandemic. Despite former gains, poverty increased, especially for the millions of women in sub-Saharan Africa who generate income from shea oil.

In India and Indonesia, farming income suffered, but households in villages proved more resilient, mainly aided by the immediate availability of food from trees. In Cameroon, the pandemic disrupted businesses reliant on nontimber forest products, and the resulting unemployment triggered urban-to-rural migration as life became tougher in cities. In West Papua New Guinea, where the pandemic disrupted the food value chain by up to 50%, many dealers in agriculture products sought financial bailouts to sustain their businesses.

In Nicaragua and Costa Rica, vegetable producers were affected by limits placed on transportation. Local agro-food supply chains were largely disrupted, with reduced market availability leading to higher prices and lower sales. In Peru, COVID-related distribution challenges contributed to lower incomes for coffee and potato farmers, forcing many households to sell assets.

An analysis of the effects of COVID-19 on agroecosystems mapped potential consequences across multiple sectors — agriculture, forestry, wildlife, fisheries, and water resources — and the related socioeconomic services, including food, energy, health, and income. The study showed that while some areas flourished amid limitations on human visitors, COVID-19 often contributed to environmental pollution and worsened overall conditions. For example, reductions in conservation staff further exposed forest ecosystems to poaching and illegal exploitation.



Launched in July 2020, the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub continued its rapid response in 2021. The Hub extended CGIAR’s research and knowledge in its four prioritized work areas and built on in-country partnerships and skills to deliver context-specific and demand-driven food system interventions.

Work Area 1 focused on four studies in 2021 in Kenya, Bangladesh, and the Indian state of Odisha. In Kenya, researchers diagnosed pivots in response to COVID-19 disruptions in the midstream of potato and fish value chains. In Bangladesh, the focus was on adapting the rice, fish, and potato value chains to COVID-19 effects. The Odisha study explored how agrifood value chains have been maintained and the subsequent impact on food security.

The Work Area also explored the role of digital platforms in maintaining the functionality of vegetable, root, and tuber crop value chains in the face of COVID-19. The studies in Kenya and Bangladesh were presented in late November 2021.

In 2021, Work Area 2 advanced the connections between human, animal, and environmental health — a One Health approach — to understand zoonotic disease emergence and prevent future zoonoses and potential pandemics. Working groups focused on crossover, epidemiology, and economic and health modelling.

In Vietnam, two studies were completed: one on wildlife value chain policies and a survey identifying pan-coronavirus in bats, pigs, and humans. In Bangladesh, a report found that fish farmers, researchers, and policymakers are integrating a One Health approach into their activities in aquatic farming systems.

The Work Area also executed a seroprevalence study of COVID-19 antibodies in households and slaughterhouse workers in Kiambu County, Kenya, and a survey of land cover change and transmission of Ebola virus and other zoonotic pathogens in Guinea.

The Work Area also finalized a review on epidemiological and macroeconomic modelling of COVID-19 impacts and a brief on managing risks and benefits of wildlife value chains in Asia and Africa.

The COVID-19 Hub’s five focus countries — Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Malawi, and Myanmar — implemented demand-led jointly-developed action plans in 2021. In Bangladesh and Ethiopia, Work Area 3 established digital platforms to be used by national governments. In Myanmar, it undertook critical studies on resilience and value chain transformation.

In Malawi, Work Area 3 conducted economic modelling of the impact of COVID-19 on the national economy and established demonstration plots for climate-resilient technologies. In Nigeria, it implemented initiatives to improve access to quality seeds and planting materials, policy engagement, and training for women and youth to support nutrition and income generation.

Country team results and lessons learned were shared in December. In February 2022, the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub published an updated set of country briefs.

In 2021, Work Area 4 undertook six innovative studies to harness knowledge to design better emergency responses, support recovery efforts, and build resilience.

These studies focused on (1) identifying the role of crisis governance in mitigating food system risks through case studies from five countries; (2) improving surveillance and incentives in detecting future emerging diseases; (3) reviewing existing literature on the impacts of COVID-19 on the food environment; (4) understanding the effects of diversification on food system resilience; (5) understanding the role of urban-rural relations in building resilience; and (6) preparing for the unexpected in complex, dynamic agrifood systems.

The key findings and recommendations were made available in a background document prepared for December.

In 2021, the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub held three public webinars: a March event to release the first world-level assessment of the impacts of COVID-19 on food security; a January event on supporting national responses to the pandemic; and a May event on One Health.

Hub research was also at the center of CGIAR’s official side event at the United Nations Food Systems Summit’s Science Days. In addition, the Hub published reports, briefs, and country profiles, and showcased COVID-19 research from across CGIAR on a website.

The CGIAR COVID-19 Hub leveraged CGIAR’s tools and knowledge, in-country resources, outreach, communications, and extensive partner network to help countries cope with the impact of the crisis on food systems and build resilience.


CGIAR COVID-19 Hub country briefs, February 2022

Bangladesh  Ethiopia  Malawi  Myanmar  Nigeria

Results indicators:
Our transition to a new research and innovation platform
Our contribution to impact:
Contribution to the SDGs