The COVID-19 pandemic is a shock that, suddenly and unpredictably, has led to disruptions in agri-food value chains. Value chain actors have been facing the effects of both the pandemic and measures to limit the spread of the virus. Policy makers, as well as NGOs, have adopted mitigating policies, strategies, and interventions to minimize disruptions, absorb supply and demand shocks, provide relief to affected producers and consumers, and support the recovery of food chains.
This paper reviews the literature on agri-food value chains published up to September 2021 for evidence of fractures and resilience in response to the pandemic. The review includes 140 publications that met established criteria of methodological robustness. More than two thirds of the studies focused on Asia and the Pacific (41%) and Africa (31%). Agricultural producers (80%) were the principal value chain actors addressed, followed by retailers (38%) and consumers (29%). Commodity focus was on livestock products (56%), cereals and other staples (49%), fish and other aquatic products, and fruits and vegetables (44% each).
Based on existing evidence, disruptions induced by the pandemic affected foremostly the value chains of perishable products. Lockdown measures limited the movement of people and goods and included the partial closure of markets. Logistics disruptions also reduced the access of farmers to agricultural inputs. Less perishable products typically fared better in view of longer shelf life and public procurement programs prioritizing cereals and other staples.
Price fluctuations were common across value chains and most pronounced during the tightest lockdown periods. In general, upstream prices at farmgate level decreased due to logistics disruptions, while retail and consumer prices rose as limited supplies reached the market. Prices usually returned to pre-pandemic levels a few weeks after lockdown measures had been relaxed unless factors other than the COVID-19 pandemic were at play.
Worst-case scenarios involving a collapse of agri-food value chains and resulting famines have not materialized. Still, agri-food value chains remain vulnerable, especially in low-income countries and where pre-existing business conditions and shortcomings in regulatory frameworks continue to hamper value chain development. In support of better preparedness for future crises, more in-depth analysis is needed to better understand pre-existing conditions and their bearing on value chain performance, along with mid- and long-term effects of specific policy, private sector and civil society interventions in agri-food value chains in response to the pandemic. Addressing shortcomings in public policies, regulatory frameworks, and public-private investments can bolster the resilience of agri-food value chains.