Helping build pandemic-safe, resilient food systems in urban Asia

How can we learn from the impacts of COVID-19 to build more resilient food systems that serve the needs of the urban poor? 

The pandemic, having changed the lives of billions around the globe, has also impacted food security in cities, increasing the level of vulnerability and food insecurity amongst the urban poor. 

“Lockdown became a severe burden for me and left no option for generating income nor any savings to survive,” says Zakir Hossain, 37, a street food vendor in Dhaka city, Bangladesh, who struggled to cope with the pandemic and faces new challenges as customers have changed their behaviour and purchasing patterns. 

Dikoda’s 2021 study on ‘Food security and diets in urban Asia’ examines evidence from eight cities in the Asia and Pacific region, revealing that COVID-19 has increased vulnerability and food insecurity through disruptions to food supply chains, increased food prices, and loss of income. 

The study, commissioned by the World Food Programme (WFP), identifies a range of responses that can help mitigate the impacts of the pandemic and protect the urban poor. The cities covered in the study are Chittagong, Bangladesh; Cox’s Bazar refugee camps and communities, Bangladesh; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Jakarta, Indonesia; Kabul, Afghanistan; Peshawar, Pakistan; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and Quezon City, Philippines.

Recommendations include leveraging WFP’s cash transfer expertise to support SME e-voucher grants, advertising existing support schemes more widely, and skills development for street food vendors to make transformative changes to their business. There is also potential to use technology to move to online sales platforms at low cost or improve customer connections.

“Disruptions caused by the pandemic require a rethinking of business models and facilitation of movement of goods within and to the city through use of technology and dynamic distribution chains,” the report says.  

As part of building back resilience into food supply chains, the report recommends setting up pandemic-safe logistics processes with systems to move goods and track provenance safely. Development partners can also support communication platforms to connect poor households with affordable, nutritious food in their communities.

New approaches, like mobile markets, can be explored to bring markets and food closer to poor urban dwellers, keeping in mind the importance of including nutritionally higher quality foods. 

“Mobile markets can support access of fresh products in urban poor areas during lockdowns and physical restrictions,” says the report.

Social protection remains a priority in recommendations, including promoting the potential of cash incentives for government and agencies to implement nutrition-sensitive social safety net programmes with food and nutrition benefits for target groups. 

The study engaged with over 2,500 respondents across the private sector, local government actors, UN agencies, NGOs, charities and other development actors. 

It concluded by acknowledging a dearth of local granular data on city-level food and food systems, highlighting the potential to support and improve governments in their assessments, monitoring and surveillance tools.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Sign up to our newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter and we will keep you posted of latest

Join our Team

× How can I help you?