UNESCO Chair: Bærekraftig arv og miljøforvaltning


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COVID and Food Systems

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the small farm sector

One might think that the similarities between farmers in Nordhordland UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and small-scale farmers in China and USA start and end with their occupation, but a new study finds striking similarities in their adaptive responses to the COVID pandemic - some of which should be considered implemented permenantly for more resilient food-production.

Black and brown cows walking in a line through a gate on a field.
Linn Voldstad


The results and conclusions of this article is retrieved from a study published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.

Food security

The COVID-19 pandemic in many ways highlighted peoples' essential connection to food and those providing it, something that has revived the debate about food-security and self-sufficiency in Norway. The uncertainties caused by the pandemic has undoubtably been hard on both the farmers, as well as their customers.

"There has been more uncertainty, poor predictability and difficulties related to planning, and the psychological aspect is most prominent, not knowing if the customer base disappears. ... Farming costs are high anyways, hence also my product prices, but can struggling restaurants afford to pay? To me it is an ethical dilemma as I have a sense of solidarity with my customers."
- Farmer in Nordhordland UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

However, it turns out that several measures small-scale farmers made in response to the disruption of traditional supply chains during the pandemic were very positive for them, and many changes should be kept and further developed to create and maintain a socially, ecologically and economocally resilient agri-food system.

Responses to the pandemic

Together with small-scale farmers in Kuhan (China) and California (USA), farmers in Nordhordland UNESCO Biosphere Reserve have been interviewed about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results of these interviews, together with data from government and non-government support organizations reveal both vulnerabilities and resilience of today's farming systems. It turns out that there are many similarities to how farmers in three very different countries experienced and adapted to the pandemic. The main ones were:

  • Sharp increase in e-commerce;
  • Increased direct and diversified markets to consumers;
  • Changes in social norms toward collaboration and re-kindling of community traditions;
  • Crucial designation of farmers and farmworkers as "essential";
  • Crucial government emergency and recovery support; and
  • Complementary training and logistics support by non-governmental organizations and/or the private sector to farmers where government support was lacking

Suggestions for more resilient agri-food systems

As markets were directly affected by the COVID pandemic, farmers that were able to quickly change to direct marketing mainly had good experiences. Not only did consumers appreciate locally produced food which they percieved safer and more available, the direct marketing also gave consumers a more direct connection to farmers. So diversified markets, and positive changes in social norms has been very good for the farmers. The absence of imported competition also helped able producers to sell locally.