In the face of a global viral pandemic, science on resilient, healthy, and sustainable food systems has never been more critical. CGIAR, as the world’s largest public agricultural research network, is working to anticipate and address the causes and consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, building on work that spans almost half a century. As the world prepares to ‘build back better’, CGIAR is also changing its approach to meet global challenges related to food systems, climate change, and sustainable development.

COVID-19 is likely to have originated from the food system – the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease is suspected to have first transmitted to humans via an animal host – and is currently causing massive global disruptions to economies, livelihoods, and individual and public health. The first cases of COVID-19 were identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. In a matter of months, millions had been infected, and hundreds of thousands had died from the disease globally, with numbers continuing to grow.

The consequences of the pandemic are also having severe impacts on food systems. Measures to stop the spread of the disease — such as social isolation directives, travel bans, and border closures — pose threats to food, nutrition, and water security, as well as progress on achieving global goals to end poverty and hunger. These impacts will be especially profound for low- and middle-income countries, potentially exacerbating hunger globally. Without substantial emergency relief, 140 million people could fall into extreme poverty, potentially increasing hunger and malnutrition for millions. The world’s most vulnerable, including women, youth, smallholder farmers, and the urban poor, will be the hardest hit.

The response to the pandemic must be swift and science-based, harnessing knowledge for emergency response, recovery, and resilience. For CGIAR, the conditions have only sharpened its mission to reduce poverty, improve food and nutrition security, and improve the quality of natural resources and ecosystem services, in line with global goals on sustainable development and climate change.

With a strong portfolio of relevant research, CGIAR is well prepared to contribute to solving and surviving the current crisis, and ensuring that another does not occur on this scale. Collectively, CGIAR is making available its latest research and analysis on COVID-19 to support authorities and the public in making informed decisions. Ongoing efforts will draw on the four research pillars of food systems; One Health (examining the interdependence of human, animal, and environmental health); inclusive public programs for food security and nutrition; and policies and investments for crisis response, economic recovery, and improved future resilience.

A CGIAR COVID-19 Hub, bringing together agriculture and health research in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, will ensure that a research-informed response effectively reaches the world’s most vulnerable. The Hub will support high-level coordination and provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for CGIAR funders and major partners seeking to engage with CGIAR on COVID-19 research and responses. Two-thirds of CGIAR’s research is already relevant to COVID-19 response – by drawing relevant research results from across the CGIAR System and making them available to key decision-makers and stakeholders in the agricultural sector, the Hub aims to maximize uptake of CGIAR innovations by countries most vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic. To provide swift support to global and country efforts during crisis response and recovery, the Hub will focus its attention on high-priority areas. These include surveillance and modeling of secondary impacts of COVID-19, such as the risk of increased poverty and hunger, and on monitoring and preventing future zoonotic disease outbreaks.

More broadly, CGIAR is also adapting to a changing world. Since the end of 2019, the System has begun unifying its governance and operations under the banner of ‘One CGIAR’. As One CGIAR, the organization aims to integrate its management, policies, and services; find new and more impactful ways of doing research; share and invest more, and pooled, funding; and move towards an approach of unified governance. While the COVID-19 pandemic may present some setbacks in achieving this transition, it also highlights the importance of accelerating collaborative efforts to eliminate poverty and hunger in the face of a global crisis. 

The responses to COVID-19 by governments, businesses, communities, and individuals around the world have shown that fast and effective change is possible. In the post-COVID-19 world, there will be a need and opportunity to think differently; to ‘build back better’. Research and action on the causes and consequences of the pandemic will continue to be a priority for CGIAR, as will forward-thinking work on its intersections with the climate crisis, and sustainable development to end global poverty and hunger.

The role of science in informing decision-making for a resilient, healthy, and sustainable world has never been more clear. In the face of this crisis and beyond, CGIAR will continue to strive to provide an evidence base and build partnerships to create a better world for all.

Interested in how CGIAR is responding to COVID-19? Read CGIAR’s contribution to global response, recovery and resilience, A 4-point CGIAR response plan on COVID-19 and the March 2021 Update on the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub Research Response Brief.

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