Knowledge for a sustainable world

Response to COVID-19

In this series of short opinion articles, NRI scientists respond to COVID-19, discussing the possible impacts of the pandemic on certain fields and consider how best we can work to overcome the challenges.

These articles are personal to each author and do not necessarily reflect the views of NRI or the University of Greenwich.

Laxmi Prasad Pant, Senior Lecturer/Researcher Human Geography/Food Systems |

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a ‘perfect storm’ to expose the fault lines of the industrial food system [1] – millions of young broiler chickens buried alive, vegetables ploughed under the soil, and milk dumped, all due to disruptions in the supply chain. Simultaneously, people increasingly depend on charities and relief workers to secure their next meal. Regardless of the pandemic, industrial modernization has already pushed regionally oriented traditional food systems to the margins, partly because of the perceived food quality and safety issues and fast, modern lifestyles.

Lora Forsythe, June Po, Fiorella Picchioni |

The significant impacts of COVID-19, accompanied by national policies for managing the virus – travel restrictions, home quarantine, non-essential business and school closures, and social distancing – have led to major disruptions in daily life, often challenging the distinction between the public-private spheres. Many people, and disproportionately women, are simultaneously home schooling, working (if possible), supporting the elderly, and caring for the sick. Intra-household communications intensify, along with increased incidences of domestic violence.[1]

Keith Tomlins, Professor of Food Science, NRI |

How might COVID-19 affect food systems in LMICs (Low- and Middle-Income Countries)? Of the few published articles about food and pandemics, most refer to obesity or high-income countries. [1,2] Regarding LMICs, the Ebola outbreak in 2014 caused severe food shortages, higher prices by up to 150% and contributed to reduced food security, poorer infant and young child feeding practices and poorer nutrition. [2,3]

Louise Abayomi, Senior Research Fellow – Postharvest Specialist, NRI |

Nigeria is the most populated African country, with almost half the Nigerian population living in extreme poverty (WB, 2018). Food and nutrition security is therefore of particular concern. Lagos State in the south-west of Nigeria is home to around 21 million people (10% of the national population). Traditional open markets are the norm for food trade in Lagos.

Uche Okpara, Fellow in Climate Change and State Fragility, NRI |

In Lake Chad, just over 85 soldiers involved in the fight against violent extremism were killed recently following a long battle with the Boko Haram sect. Much of North-eastern Nigeria and Western Chad near Lake Chad remain under intense insurgent attacks as shocks from drought intensify, and humanitarian conditions worsen.

John Morton, Professor of Development Anthropology, NRI |

As I write, the full impact of the new coronavirus and the associated disease COVID-19 on developing countries is yet to be seen, and is hard to predict in either scale or nature. Yet it is clear that those impacts will include impacts on both smallholder and commercial farming and on other links in food supply chains.

Judy Bettridge, Fellow in Biostatistics for Food and Agriculture, NRI |

Hazelnut muesli bars, fresh mackerel, frozen mushy peas: the curious selection of scattered items among the desolation of empty shelves in my local supermarket in Kent, UK, reminded me of time spent in Ethiopia, where our local shop in Bishoftu (Debre Zeit), a small town 45km outside Addis, never seemed to have the same stock two weeks running!

Valerie Nelson, Professor of Sustainable Development, NRI |

Can the current health crisis lead to the kinds of changes we so urgently need to combat the interconnected climate and environmental crises we face? What does COVID-19 mean for food, agricultural, livelihood and community systems? Post-pandemic, the world will not and cannot return to ‘business as usual’.

Conor Walsh, Environmental Scientist, NRI |

What constitutes a global crisis? What differentiates it from a national or regional problem? By definition, a pandemic reflects a threat to human health that transcends territorial and jurisdictional boundaries. Ironically, the collective response to COVID-19 serves as a severing of the connections afforded by transit and free movements whilst simultaneously presenting a shared experience for many (and a set of practices that are shared by a substantial amount of people in many countries).