From farm to table: How are governments keeping food systems functioning during COVID-19?


September 11, 2020

With the initial onset of COVID-19, pictures of empty supermarket shelves and panic buying raised questions about the impacts of the pandemic on food supply chains. Around the world, governments have responded in multiple ways to address some of the major constraints generated by lockdowns, restrictions on transport, and financial stresses experienced by farmers, retailers, and consumers. Drawing on the data collected for 28 countries for IFPRI’s COVID-19 Policy Response (CPR) Portal, a new project note by Adam Kennedy and Danielle Resnick summarizes the distribution of government policy choices, highlighting where innovations emerged as well as where there has been a reversion to the status quo.

The authors conclude that, as with all crises, COVID-19 has prompted some reversion to agricultural and food policies that worked in the past and the expansion of programs that have a historical and significant presence, such as subsidy and procurement programs. However, particularly for distribution and retail, the pandemic is prompting a range of new technologies and modes of doing business that may well persist for years to come if they are found to be scalable beyond major cities. Such scalability will depend on a host of concurrent investments in digital literacy, data privacy regulations, and the interoperability of e-payment solutions. At the same time, the pandemic reinforces the longstanding need for traditional investments in storage and processing infrastructure in order to extend the life of perishable commodities that suffer delivery delays due to closed borders, quarantines, and reduced shopping hours. More broadly, governments should aim to ensure that their very dispersed fiscal, monetary, trade, regulatory, and investment policies across value chains and supply chains are indeed complementary with their other COVID-19-related support to consumers and in line with their longer-term agrifood system transformation objectives.

Download the project note (PDF)


Kennedy, Adam and Resnick, Danielle. 2020. From farm to table: How are governments keeping food systems functioning during COVID-19? COVID-19 Policy Response Portal Project Note 1. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Also read: 

COVID-19 Policy Response (CPR) Portal: Identifying trends and implications for food systems

The COVID-19 Policy Response (CPR) Portal is led by IFPRI’s country and regional programs and supported by Michigan State University’s country programs, as well as by national institutions across the world. Funding for the portal is provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM).

Photo by Yacine Imadalou / ILO (Flickr)