Agri-food systems in developing countries encountered serious disruptions in certain sectors due to labor market shocks and trade constraints during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initial measures such as export bans on basic foods or restrictions on seasonal migrant agricultural labor mobility have been eliminated or minimized. Market disruptions have been addressed by adjusting business models or reestablishing supply toward specific market segments, such as a significant increase in digital technology to enable home delivery or a shift toward retail in response to a restaurant’s other food service closures. Building agri-food system resilience through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be a better solution to deal with the adverse effects of the pandemic.
Developing countries are more vulnerable to the pandemic’s detrimental effects than developed countries owing to their scarce resources, experience, and technologies. COVID-19 has impacted many sectors of the economy, but agri-food systems have been hit particularly badly because many agri-food commodities are perishable.
In fact, agri-food systems have been under growing pressure in recent decades due to complex interactions of many stresses and disturbances, making it challenging to sustain high-quality and inexpensive food production while simultaneously providing a living wage for field workers. On top of these already-existing problems, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on a wide range of agri-food actors, posing a new challenge.
Lockdowns imposed to mitigate COVID-19 had a wide-ranging impact on society globally. Among other things, the COVID-19 measure to stop restaurant business and food markets in many nations altered consumer need for food items and had other unintended consequences, severely disrupting global agri-food systems.
While much about the consequences of COVID-19 remains unclear, we know only several mechanisms are driving them. COVID-19 has a great, unequal, impact on the food system and its users. Worldwide disruptions in agri-food supply networks have exacerbated the consequences on food systems, poverty, and nutrition.
Because of the harsh tool of social distance, which was utilized in varying degrees across nations to halt the spread of the new coronavirus and contain its long-term human and economic effects, the COVID-19-induced worldwide recession was more severe than the 2008–2009 global financial crisis.
As a result of containment efforts, businesses deemed “non-essential” were frequently compelled to close, and employees were forced to stay at home. Hundreds of millions of workers have been laid off worldwide, and those without access to social security have also lost a sizable percentage of their income.
Agri-food systems are concerned with the complete network of actors engaged in food production, distribution, and consumption, their relationships, and the legal framework that governs these arrangements. The agri-food systems encompass all operations associated with food production, processing, distribution, trade, and consumption. Disruptions in agri-food systems have been highly variable—both within and across chains and countries.
Food services have been disproportionately impacted, while other food systems sectors such as farming, food trade, and retailing have been mostly deemed “essential.” Nonetheless, being labeled “essential” did not guarantee pandemic resistance, and supply chain disruptions along the food value chains, varying greatly in severity depending on product and country characteristics.
They have encountered serious disruptions in certain sectors due to labor market shocks and trade constraints. Initial measures such as export bans on basic foods or restrictions on seasonal migrant agricultural labor mobility have been eliminated or minimized. Market disruptions have been addressed by adjusting business models or reestablishing supply toward specific market segments, such as a significant increase in digital technology to enable home delivery or a shift toward retail in response to a restaurant’s other food service closures.
Building agri-food system resilience through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be a better solution to deal with the adverse effects of the pandemic.
Agricultural digitalization which uses digital tools along the agri-food value chain may address an effective solution to the existing production challenges. Many digital vehicles are now undergoing a revolution in agricultural ICTs. The fourth agricultural revolution dubbed the “digital agricultural revolution,” began in the twenty-first century and was linked to the development of digital technology and artificial intelligence.
In 2019, the FAO emphasized the importance of the latest agricultural revolution, based on ICTs, as a potent instrument for ensuring that agriculture fulfills the demands of the global population in the future. Agricultural ICTs have a continually rising market size in developed and developing nations.
The COVID-19 epidemic and its allied consequences took a huge toll on the resilience of numerous agri-food systems globally. Extreme stress and disruption provide an opportunity to identify and validate critical contributors to the resilience of the agri-food system. Resilience has applicability in various areas, including psychology and ecology, and academics have used a variety of concepts to construct their resilience-investigative framework.
This study relies on existing definitions of resilience in the social-ecological systems (SES) literature, which generally refer to a system’s capacity to properly tolerate, absorb, or adapt to shocks Despite strong theoretical underpinnings, the literature often lacks evidence indicating how agri-food system resilience might be enhanced.
There is a need for evidence-based insights into how agricultural ICTs truly contribute to agri-food system resilience, and times of high stress and disruption provide an opportunity to know in-depth information about the pandemic situation. The positive dynamic in market growth might be explained by the fact that agricultural ICTs are vital instruments for increasing production and interactions between governments, company owners, buyers, policymakers, and farmers.
To enhance the agri-food system resilience, these linkages among the stakeholders involved might assist in raising total food production and improving food security.
There are several studies focused on the impact of COVID-19 on agricultural production, agri-food systems, supply chain, and farming systems. Few studies already focused on the global context and local contexts. However, there is no explicit attention to the influence of COVID-19 on agri-food systems in developing countries, which are thought to be the most affected by the pandemic due to a lack of resources, limited job prospects, low literacy, lack of knowledge, and high reliance on agriculture.
Understanding the negative effects of COVID-19 on the agri-food system, on the other hand, can aid in tackling existing problems and planning better for the future. Considering the importance, this study attempts to fill the research gap by addressing two research questions:
(a) how does COVID-19 affect the agri-food system?
(b) what are ICT’s roles in enhancing agri-food systems’ activities amid COVID-19?
Therefore, this study intends to expand the understanding of the COVID-19 impact on the agri-food system network in developing countries, employing a systematic review of the literature. This can assist communities dependent on agri-food systems in coping, adapting, and building resilience in developing countries.
This study has extracted the specific impacts on agricultural production in terms of input unavailability, shortage of labor, distribution limitation, limited processing, and low market demands. Similarly, the impact of COVID-19 on the agri-food system network has been presented in terms of food availability, access, and utilization.
COVID-19 has presented agri-food system players with various challenges, including a scarcity of inputs, technical help, difficulty in marketing the product, transportation impediments, and low prices. Low output, unanticipated stock, and revenue loss are all consequences of these barriers.
By disrupting both the demand and supply sides of the agri-food system networks, COVID-19’s limitations have resulted in a major food shortfall. Food insecurity has afflicted a large number of small-scale farmers. Actors in the agri-food system are becoming less motivated to continue producing due to the cumulative effects.
Policymakers should assess the long-term consequences of export controls and foreign trade restrictions. Farmers need regular access to seeds and inputs in the short term to produce food, feed their families, and sell the surplus.
Generally, crises appear to spur technical and system changes that stimulate innovation and, ideally, continue to increase resilience to future shocks. Overall, the findings of several studies undertaken following the pandemic outbreak indicate the urgent need to increase the use of modern agricultural ICTs on various production and social scales to fulfill the world’s expanding need for agri-food system network.
Read the study:
Alam GM, Khatun MN, Sarker MN, Joshi NP, & Bhandari H. (2023). Promoting agri-food systems resilience through ICT in developing countries amid COVID-19. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 6.