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Publication | 8 April 2021

Impacts of COVID-19 on agriculture and food systems in Pacific Island countries (PICs): Evidence from communities in Fiji and Solomon Islands

Global Food and Nutrition Security

CONTEXT

COVID-19 mitigation measures including border lockdowns, social distancing, de-urbanization and restricted movements have been enforced to reduce the risks of COVID-19 arriving and spreading across PICs. To reduce the negative impacts of COVID-19 mitigation measures, governments have put in place a number of interventions to sustain food and income security. Both mitigation measures and interventions have had a number of impacts on agricultural production, food systems and dietary diversity at the national and household levels.

OBJECTIVE

Our paper conducted an exploratory analysis of immediate impacts of both COVID-19 mitigation measures and interventions on households and communities in PICs. Our aim is to better understand the implications of COVID-19 for PICs and identify knowledge gaps requiring further research and policy attention.

METHODS

To understand the impacts of COVID-19 mitigation measures and interventions on food systems and diets in PICs, 13 communities were studied in Fiji and Solomon Islands in July-August 2020. In these communities, 46 focus group discussions were carried out and 425 households were interviewed. Insights were also derived from a series of online discussion sessions with local experts of Pacific Island food and agricultural systems in August and September 2020. To complement these discussions, an online search was conducted for available literature.

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS

Identified impacts include: 1) Reduced agricultural production, food availability and incomes due to a decline in local markets and loss of access to international markets; 2) Increased social conflict such as land disputes, theft of high-value crops and livestock, and environmental degradation resulting from urban-rural migration; 3) Reduced availability of seedlings, planting materials, equipment and labour in urban areas; 4) Reinvigoration of traditional food systems and local food production; and 5) Re-emergence of cultural safety networks and values, such as barter systems. Households in rural and urban communities appear to have responded positively to COVID-19 by increasing food production from home gardens, particularly root crops, vegetables and fruits. However, the limited diversity of agricultural production and decreased household incomes are reducing the already low dietary diversity score that existed pre-COVID-19 for households.

SIGNIFICANCE

These findings have a number of implications for future policy and practice. Future interventions would benefit from being more inclusive of diverse partners, focusing on strengthening cultural and communal values, and taking a systemic and long-term perspective. COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to strengthen traditional food systems and re-evaluate, re-imagine and re-localize agricultural production strategies and approaches in PICs.