COVID-19 impacts on fish and aquatic food systems
WorldFish and partners join forces in research response
CGIAR Research Program on
Fish Agri-Food Systems
The implications will be serious and particularly dire for the poor and vulnerable living in developing countries. It is estimated that the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic could plunge more than half a billion people into poverty, with communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East expected to suffer the most. The impacts of this global health crisis and ultimately the economic crisis will disproportionately affect women and girls and reverse progress on gender equality on many levels. Unless sound and decisive measures are taken fast to keep global food supply chains going and to protect poor and vulnerable communities, a looming food crisis - with serious socio-economic consequences - will become inevitable.
Fish and other aquatic foods are a key part of our global food systems and a highly nutritious food group of major social, cultural and economic significance. Disruptions in supply chains for fish and aquatic foods are already happening due to disruptions in transportation, trade, and labor. Falling production from reduced fishing efforts and delayed stocking of aquaculture systems will lead to lower supplies, access, and consumption of these foods. Decreased consumer demand and increased transaction costs will have a knock-on effect that will push the price of fish and aquatic foods up and make them less affordable for poor consumers. Many people employed in these supply chains, such as fish vendors, processors, suppliers or transport workers will lose their jobs.• • •
Already, coronavirus ‘lockdowns’ in developing countries are triggering a mass exodus of the urban poor migrating to their rural homes. With no jobs, no incomes or savings, and limited means and space to practice good hygiene and social distancing, millions of women, men, children, and elderly people will face death, disease or slow starvation. Those who can rely on subsistence agriculture, fishing and fish-farming to weather this crisis may have a chance at survival.
Governments, like other critical decision-makers, donors and private sector investors - the world over - will need to be guided by sound scientific data and knowledge to understand the severity and complexity of these issues. They will need solid scientific evidence to be able to formulate appropriate responses in terms of concrete policies and actions that work and work fast.
WorldFish, together with the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-food Systems and its many partners - across the public and private sectors - are already working to shed light on the nature and magnitude of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on fish and aquatic food systems in several developing countries where we work across Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.
Research responses are already being formulated to examine and understand the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in fish market systems and in poor and vulnerable communities, where fish and aquatic foods are vital to food and nutrition security, human health, wellbeing, and livelihoods.
- Our genetics research teams in Malaysia, Egypt, and Bangladesh have taken early actions to manage critical aquatic genetic resources that are invaluable to millions of fish farmers and the aquaculture sector in Africa and Asia.
- In Bangladesh, WorldFish is collaborating with several One CGIAR centers, the FAO and the World Food Program to provide timely evidence-based insights to shape and inform government advisories and policies to keep value chains operating in safe ways. The goal is to orient social protection schemes towards the most vulnerable and to keep food production and market supplies functional under enormously challenging conditions.
- Our researchers in India are working closely with the Odisha state government to develop advisories for fishers and aquaculture farmers, hatcheries and markets.
- In Timor-Leste, we are using high-resolution digital technologies to track and record pattern changes in small-scale fishing activities. We are also supporting local partners to keep tilapia hatcheries operating safely.
- We have launched a multi-country survey on fish supply chains in Bangladesh, Egypt, Myanmar, Nigeria, Timor-Leste, and India in the states of Odisha, Assam and Andhra Pradesh. Weekly telephone interviews are being conducted with women and men farmers, fishers, input suppliers, processors, traders, and retailers, who enable the production and supply of captured and farmed fish across local and regional markets. The purpose of these surveys is to gather data on changes in the availability and price of aquatic foods and production inputs in key regions. The survey data is informing COVID-19 advisories and risk management guidance that is being disseminated to local fishing and fish-farming communities via our in-country partner networks.
- Our nutrition and value chain experts have also provided inputs to the Interim Issues Paper on the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition by the High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) to the Committee on World Food Security.
While responding to the COVID-19 outbreak challenges, we take enormous pride in the work of our researchers, our partners and the communities where our work is embedded. Our mission to harness the power of science to build a better world for healthy people and a healthy planet through fish and aquatic foods research could not ring truer for many of us. We also recognize that responding to this unprecedented situation requires us to pool ideas, talents, resources, and efforts like never before, both within WorldFish as an organization, but also with our research partners within and outside One CGIAR, as well as governments and other public and private sector stakeholders.
This is not the first nor the last pandemic. Close transdisciplinary and international research collaboration – across the public and the private spheres - is necessary. Meanwhile, governments and individuals with the wealth to do so must continue to support scientific research so that we can ride the COVID-19 storm out, minimize its devastating impacts on the world’s poor and vulnerable, and find ourselves better prepared the next time.
Sound data and scientific evidence to shape effective responses to the impacts of this global pandemic on the food and nutrition security and the livelihoods of millions of poor and vulnerable communities in the developing world are critical if we are to ensure its impacts do not exacerbate the many inequities that already exist in our globalized world. Nutritious fish and aquatic foods, made safe, available, accessible and affordable, are part of that inclusive prosperous future we must imagine - now more than ever before - to secure healthy and nutritious diets for all. They are an indispensable part of the solution to ensure sustainable and resilient global food systems in the face of climate change, and the related global health crises such as the one under which we are now living and working.
Authors: Gareth Johnstone, Michael Phillips, Shakuntala H. Thilsted and Ben Belton
COVID 19 – News and updates
Blogs and articles around food systems
How small fishers in Kerala's Poonthura benefited from COVID time auction system
April, 2020Read More
Publications and policy briefs
Responding to COVID-19 and its impact in the food systems
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting not only food trade, food supply chains and markets but also people’s lives, livelihoods and nutrition. This collection of policy briefs presents a qualitative and quantitative assessment of the pandemic’s impacts on these areas.
Mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on food and nutrition of schoolchildren
WFP, FAO, WHO (April 2020) Mitigating the effects of COVID-19 on food and nutrition of school children. Interim Guidance Note. pp. 14.
Joint Statement on COVID-19 Impacts on Food Security and Nutrition
FAO, IFAD, the World Bank and WFP on the occasion of the Extraordinary G20 Agriculture Minister's Meeting. 21st April 2020. Joint Statement on COVID-19 impacts on food security and nutrition.
How is COVID-19 affecting the fisheries and aquaculture food systems
A sector at risk, yet fish is safe to eat. (FAO, 10 April 2020)
Coastal Management (22 May 2020)
CGIAR Research Response to COVID-19
Executive summary - CGIAR Research Response to COVID-19 (20 May 2020)
Food systems security, resilience and emerging risks in the Indo-Pacific in the context of COVID-19
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (May 2020)
MSSRF COVID-19 policy briefs print version
M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) (15 May 2020)
The 2020 Global Nutrition Report in the context of Covid-19
Global Nutrition Report (May 2020)
COVID-19 pandemic drives global increase in humanitarian food assistance needs
Global Food Security Alert (27 April 2020)
Will the COVID-19 pandemic make us reconsider the relevance of short food supply chains and local productions?
Trends in Food Science & Technology (Volume 99, May 2020, Pages 566-567)
Does COVID-19 Affect Food Safety and Security?
A Summary Report on the Extraordinary Scientific Roundtable of IUFoST-CIFST (March 21, 2020)
International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES-Food)
COVID-19 and the crisis in food systems: Symptoms, causes, and potential solutions. (IPES-Food, April 2020)
SARS-CoV-2 is Not Known to Infect Aquatic Food Animals Nor Contaminate Their Products
Currently there is no evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 (The Cause of COVID-19 in Humans) can infect aquatic food animals and therefore these animals do not play an epidemiological role in spreading COVID-19 to humans.
Interim Issues Paper on the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN) by the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and nutrition (HLPE)
Statement from the Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS)
Rome, 24 March 2020
Monitoring and tracking data from the field
All employees who are working remotely should do so in coordination with their immediate supervisors. All personnel working at the maintenance functions are asked to practice social distancing and follow best practices for preventing the spread of germs. All business travel has been suspended and meetings, conference and events are either postponed or re-scheduled to take place via teleconferencing.