The Global Food Crisis: Causes and consequences

Photo by Ransford Quaye

April 05, 2023.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has put health systems around the world under massive stress. At the onset of the pandemic, many governments put various containment measures in place, restricting the free movements of people both within and between countries added by closing non-essential businesses and schools. These policies have also had an impact on global food systems by limiting international food supply, disrupting local supply chains, leading to economic slowdowns and reduced accessibility of food. Food systems in Africa have particularly been hit, due to a
limited ability to respond to shocks and stress - reinforced by structural deficiencies in the production and distribution of food. These are caused by inadequate infrastructure, high transaction costs, as well as malfunctioning credit and insurance markets.

Effects on global hunger

After a steady decline in global hunger over the past decades, progress has slowed down in recent years - mainly related to climate shocks and conflicts. The COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s military attack on Ukraine are driving up international food prices, causing a severe increase in global hunger and malnutrition. On the country level, food and nutrition security impacts vary, depending on both the severity of the shock and the resilience of local food systems to adapt and recover. In several case studies from sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia, Ghana, and Uganda), ZEF researchers investigated the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown measures on household consumption and income losses using primary household panel survey data.

Income effects stronger than supply chain disruptions

Despite early reductions in food availability due to supply chain disruptions and higher transaction costs, local and regional food trade in the case study countries have proven to be remarkably resilient. However, the containment measures and subsequent economic slowdowns have significantly affected household food security (diversity and quantity) through a reduction in wage income. These findings are in line with most other earlier assessment studies. The observed negative short-run effects are strong for households in Ghana and Ethiopia (both urban samples) and for rural households surveyed in Uganda.

Food insecurity in Ghana, Uganda, and Ethiopia

In Ghana, dietary diversity and food expenditures increased between the first months of the pandemic in 2020 and one year later in 2021, while the share of food expenditure declined - indicating a fast recovery of the Ghanaian economy. In Ethiopia, survey data suggests that in the early months of the pandemic, employment and household income decreased significantly and has remained low until now, while dietary diversity was less affected. Relatedly, more than half of the respondents in Uganda were affected by the pandemic and its containment measures in the early months, signified by a marked reduction in food expenditures. In the subsequent months, dietary diversity remained relatively low irrespective of whether Ugandan households were initially directly affected or did not report negative effects early in the pandemic.


Global and local food markets have been severely under stress in the past two years. On top of multiple crises caused by climate, conflict, and COVID-19, high and volatile international food prices and supply shortages of grains threaten global food security. Many African countries are highly indebted and unable to respond by expanding existing social safety net programs that were able to partly mitigate COVID-19 impacts. This situation needs to be monitored and considered by international communities when support programs are discussed, planned and implemented.

Further reading:
Kornher, L. and J. von Braun. 2023. The global food crisis will not be over when international prices are back to normal. (ZEF Policy Brief 42) Download

Usman, M.A., Adong, A., Injete, E., Dzudzor, M., Getahun, T.G., Lulie, J. and L. Kornher. 2022. The Effect of COVID-19 and Associated Lockdown Measures on Household Consumption, Income, and Employment: Evidence from sub-Saharan African Countries. (ZEF Working Paper 218) Download

Authors: Lukas Kornher is and Muhammed A. Usman was a senior researcher at ZEF.
Contact: lkornher(at); musman(at)

This article was published in ZEF News No. 46.

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