The global upheaval caused by COVID-19 extended beyond health, affecting food production and supply chains, particularly impacting vulnerable populations. The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), in collaboration with Griffith University, undertook a project focusing on the gendered risks, impact, and response to the pandemic across Myanmar, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea.

Led by Griffith University’s Professor Sara Davies and Associate Professor Robin Roberts, the cross-institutional research team explored the complexities of the gendered impacts of responses to COVID-19 on food security and socio-economic outcomes for women to build an evidence base that identifies the specific risk of hardship, insecurity, and inequality that women have experienced during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, to advance evidence-based research that informs future ACIAR work as part of a medium-long term COVID-19 response; and contributes to bigger-picture activities to ensure the Indo-Pacific is part of the discussion and focus for philanthropic and international donor grant schemes.

ACIAR’s initiative delves into the experiences of women, specifically small-scale farmers, during the first two years of the pandemic. The project combines quantitative and qualitative methods, employing surveys and face-to-face data collection to comprehend the nuanced challenges faced by women in agriculture.

Insights from the research

The ‘deep dive’ study revealed essential insights, indicating that issues such as food rationing, limited financing alternatives, and inadequate gender-specific support persisted even before the crisis. The research also highlighted the absence of accessible crop insurance, training, and personal protective equipment for women, intensifying challenges during the pandemic.

The findings underscore the difficulties women faced in accessing information and resources during the crisis. Lack of clarity, inclusive pathways for welfare distribution, and communication channels impeded the timely provision of essential resources, exacerbating the challenges faced by women in agriculture.

In the Philippines, the surge in staple prices significantly impacted household food intake. Locally available items like fish, chicken, pork, and beef experienced a substantial spike due to border restrictions and disrupted supply chains. Farmers emphasized the unaffordability, stating prices were “really big” and “expensive.” Despite the government discouraging bulk buying, individual goods’ prices continued to rise. Limited supplies and elevated fares in available transport contributed to the challenges. Women, in particular, expressed concerns about declining incomes amid escalating prices. The intersection of mobility restrictions and economic shifts intensified the strain on households.

In Myanmar, five farmers interviews emphasised that there wasn’t a shortage of food, however, escalating prices prevented them from affording certain items. Two revealed they had to limit their food intake, reducing it to only two meals a day due to the economic constraints posed by the rising prices.

In Papua New Guinea, the pandemic affected most farmers and it was hard to recover financially. Few were eligible for financial support from local government and most reported that they did not fully understand the loan process.

ACIAR’s research provides a critical foundation for understanding the gendered impacts of the pandemic, paving the way for informed policy decisions. The outcomes will not only contribute to immediate relief efforts but also shape ACIAR’s future programs, emphasising poverty reduction and improved livelihoods in the Indo-Pacific region.


Professor Sara E Davies and Associate Professor Robin E Roberts are members of the Griffith Asia Institute.
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