COVID-19 impacts on Flemish food supply chains and lessons for agri-food system resilience

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


Context: Resilience represents the ability of systems to anticipate, withstand, or adapt to challenges. Times of
great stress and disturbance offer opportunity to identify and confirm key contributors to agri-food system
resilience. The COVID-19 pandemic and its related consequences constituted major shock, challenging the
resilience of many agri-food systems worldwide.
Objective: This paper aimed to report the immediate effects of the COVID-19 crisis on various key actors from
Flemish food supply chains. By analysing and assessing the observed impacts of and reactions to this crisis
from a resilience perspective, it also aimed to gain empirical evidence on resilience-enhancing characteristics
of agri-food systems to sudden shocks.
Methods: A first, quantitative step of our mixed method approach measured 718 farmers’ experienced impacts
and applied strategies following the crisis through an online survey. A second, qualitative step captured impacts
and responses from other key actors downstream the food supply chain through 22 in-depth interviews and 18
on-line questionnaires. Data gathering and interpretation followed a conceptual framework for analysing resilience
of agri-food systems to external challenges, that we developed based on the literature. The framework
states that resilience actions stem from three types of resilience capacities: anticipatory, coping and responsive capacities. These are determined by both resources allocated by system actors, as well as by resilience attributes
from the system.
Results and conclusions: The COVID-19 crisis induced a simultaneous dropped demand for food products in the
hospitality industry and risen demand in retail. This shifted demand significantly disturbed food production,
processing and marketing processes in terms of labour organization, planning, operation, logistics, and economic
returns. Perceived impacts varied extensively across actors from the agri-food system, mostly depending on their
marketing strategy, customer base, and flexibility and diversity of their practices. Reported reactions to this crisis
revealed that resilience capacities varied according to actors’ abilities to negotiate prices, adjust production
processes, and maintain or reorient sales. Some agri-food sectors showed higher responsive capacity because of a
higher connectivity and self-organization within the system.
Significance: Our findings suggest that flexibility and diversity, despite their tendency to diminish price optimums,
increase resilience capacities, which may be more beneficial to systems for thriving in turbulent and
uncertain environments. A more tangible, operationalized understanding of resilience is necessary to effectively
improve agri-food system resilience. Our conceptual framework proved a valuable tool for operationalizing
resilience assessments to major shocks.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103136
JournalAgricultural Systems
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - May-2021


  • B410-agricultural-hydrology
  • COVID-19
  • farmers
  • resilience
  • shocks
  • agri-food system
  • Food supply chain


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