In an article for the Nutrition Connect website, HarvestPlus founder Howarth “Howdy” Bouis theorizes about the future impact of COVID-19 and its repercussions on agriculture, food, and nutrition. Bouis outlines five anticipated phases in the ongoing evolution and impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, and argues that nutrition outcomes will be highly dependent on trends in key variables: household income, food prices, and resources available to governments to fund nutrition and health programs

In Bouis’ analytical framework, Phase 1 is lockdown, which results in high unemployment, declines in GDP, and increases in poverty. Phase 2 brings a marginal improvement in employment, but people still be wary of contracting the disease. In Phase 3, as a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, developed economies will begin recovering. In Phase 4, significant economic recovery will take place but despite growth rates being high, resources for nutrition and health programs will still be constrained in comparison with the period before COVID-19. Moving forward, in Phase 5, Bouis predicts that the world will go back to reaching growth levels that were achieved pre-COVID.

Bouis urges governments to make informed decisions now to mitigate future negative impacts as much as possible. He recommends certain nutrition interventions that would go a long way in safeguarding vulnerable populations from the consequences of lower incomes and higher prices expected in the future.  He recommends two sets of nutrition interventions: the first interventions to consider are feeding and safety net programs, and the second set are direct nutrition interventions.

He maintains that feeding and safety net programs, which are conventionally underfunded, are critical to implement now as they are necessary to mitigate hunger and maintain political stability.  He argues that costs may be reduced over time as some of the unemployed are able to return to work, but in general they will be continued until a vaccine is widely-available and pre-COVID-19 levels of economic activity return. 

For direct nutrition interventions, he emphasizes that it is vital to keep agriculture and food systems operating smoothly. He gives examples of how COVID-19-related restrictions are bound to make their operation more challenging.   

Bouis predicts that the effects of malnutrition in low-income settings over the next several years will be severe and cause worsening dietary quality. He considers it paramount that the above-mentioned nutrition interventions are carried out, although these will be threatened by low funding. Some interventions may be more constrained than others by restrictions in mobility during particular phases.  

Read the full article here.