USD10 billion needed to avert the COVID-19 hunger crisis

Ceres2030’s new analysis finds that USD 10 billion is urgently needed this year to prevent millions more people from becoming food insecure as a result of COVID-19. USD 5 billion of this must come from donor governments as aid, with the rest provided by developing countries themselves.

Without funding for social protection programmes providing food or money to people in developing countries, decades of progress in tackling hunger could be wiped out by the end of this year, with longstanding consequences.

Child eating

$10bn needed to avert the COVID-19 hunger crisis

$10bn needed to avert the COVID-19 hunger crisis


Ceres2030 is a cutting-edge research project on the public investments needed to end hunger sustainably, led by Cornell University, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). 

Our team of over 70 agricultural experts uses artificial intelligence to analyze reams of evidence and combine it with economic modelling. We provide donor governments with new tools to help them assess the need and increase the effectiveness of their investments to end hunger sustainably, in line with the United Nation's goal to end hunger by 2030 (SDG 2).

The virtuous circle of SDG2

The virtuous circle of SDG2

Photo: ©2015CIAT/StephanieMalyon

The impact of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition

Our economic modelling and analysis use data from the UN’s 2020 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report. We found that an additional 95 million people could be affected by hunger over the course of 2020, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, taking us back to absolute levels not seen in almost two decades.

We found that USD 10 billion worth of social protection programs providing food or money could prevent a hunger crisis and ensure that people are able to maintain their pre-COVID-19 consumption levels and patterns. USD 5 billion of this must come from donor governments as aid, with the rest provided by developing countries themselves. This money is additional to the funds needed to help the 690 million people who were already hungry before COVID-19 in 2019, according to the latest SOFI report.

Photo: Jennifer A. Patterson / ILO

Equally important is the change in diets, as people in poverty who have less income are turning away from more expensive, nutritious foods like — fish, fruits, vegetables, and dairy — to cheaper but poorer- quality calories, such as sugar, oil, corn, and other staples. In addition, perishable foods face a greater risk of disruption than staple foods. These perishable products are important sources of protein and micronutrients, and not getting enough of them will have a negative impact on people’s health.  

Photo: Jennifer A. Patterson / ILO

Even before the pandemic, too little was being done globally to end hunger. The number of hungry people had been rising for five years in a row according to the latest UN SOFI report, due to conflict, climate change and insufficient government action. COVID-19 has exacerbated an already urgent situation, with lockdowns leaving millions of people without work and unable to buy enough food. Hunger numbers could rise to levels not seen in almost two decades, seriously threatening the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 to end hunger by 2030.

What is driving the food security and nutrition crisis?

1. Falling incomes

The global COVID-19 economic crisis and lockdowns have left millions of people without work and unable to buy enough food. The loss of income is the main driver of increased hunger. People working in the informal sector are particularly at risk, as they often rely on that day’s income to eat. Lockdowns prevent them from working or reduce demand for their services.

Ceres2030 predicts a 4.8% fall in global economic growth due to COVID-19, which would cause a dramatic 13% spike in the number of people in extreme poverty this year. This drop in GDP is in line with International Monetary Fund predictions.

Of the 95 million additional people we predict could be pushed into extreme poverty in 2020, 55 million would be in sub-Saharan Africa, 20 million in South Asia, and the remaining 20 million in the rest of the world.

“The GDP will drop by almost half!”
H.E. Sadou Seydou, Minister of Trade and Private Sector Promotion, Niger

2. Supply chain disruptions

Lockdown restrictions and illness have also disrupted supply chains. Overall, the amount of food being produced has remained stable, but there have been problems in getting it to market. One reason for this is labour shortages — for example, due to restrictions on migrant workers or COVID-19 outbreaks in factories. 

Another challenge is transporting food, due to curfews, stricter border controls, and more stringent regulations. For example, products such as tomatoes and okra are often transported by night to avoid high temperatures and sunlight, but many traders have been forced to travel by day, causing damage. 

“We should not just look at #covid19 and forget about the other disasters we are facing on the continent.”
H.E. Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission


Our analysis shows that if governments provide USD 10 billion for social protection programs in Africa and South Asia, with at least USD 5 billion coming from donor governments as aid, then we could prevent a COVID-19 food security and nutrition crisis. Social protection programs are needed in the short-term to address the current crisis and into the longer-term to provide a safety net and boost incomes for the worst off. 

Social protection is an investment in people, ensuring they always have the means to buy nutritious food, send children to school, and get the healthcare they need. It can help prevent people facing short-term shocks from having to sell off livestock or other assets to pay for their next meal; or from being unable to feed their children, which can have permanent economic and social consequences. 

Ethiopia has one of the most effective social protection schemes in Africa. It uses a combination of cash transfers for those who cannot work and training and public job schemes for those who can to boost agricultural production and tackle hunger. Research has shown its impact is equivalent to reducing the length of the hungry season by one third.

There is a growing consensus on the need for these measures. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently called for governments to strengthen social protection systems for nutrition.

With the right social protection policies and long-term investments to build sustainable and resilient food systems, governments can not only avert a COVID-19 hunger crisis, but put the UN goal to end hunger by 2030 back on track.

Contact: Carin Smaller:; David Laborde:; Jaron Porciello: 

Download the PDF

Download the PDF

What’s next for Ceres2030?

On July 21, the Ceres2030 and the SDG2 Advocacy Hub will hold a virtual event from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. (CEST). This virtual event is intended to drive investments in the Sustainable Development Goal 2 related to ending hunger via raising awareness of numbers and costs needed. Register here.

In October 2020, Ceres2030 will publish its final report. This will include:

  • A new figure for how much it will cost to end hunger by 2030 while increasing smallholder farmer incomes and protecting the environment, assessing the best way to spend money across a number of agricultural interventions in different countries.
  • An analysis of the best interventions to end hunger sustainably. Ceres2030 has created a new machine-learning tool to read and synthesize over 90,000 articles and reports. This type of artificial intelligence has never been used before, even in other academic fields, and vastly increases the amount of evidence Ceres2030 researchers can process. The tool will be used to help answer eight research questions covering challenges such as addressing water scarcity, tackling food loss, and creating employment for the future. An article on each of the topics will be published in the scientific journal Nature.
  • A new economic model to show the impact of a shock like COVID-19 in a world where we have eradicated hunger compared to a world where we have not.

Webinar | How Are African Governments Responding to Avert a COVID-19 Hunger Crisis?

July 8 , 2020: This Ceres2030 webinar brought together African ministers responsible for agriculture and trade to discuss the measures their countries are taking to avert a hunger crisis by ensuring that livelihoods are secured and food systems remain functional. Ministers shared insights into the role the international community can play to support their efforts.