ACToday: COVID-19 Update

The global coronavirus pandemic has disrupted most aspects of life in the United States. Our work on the Adapting Agriculture to Climate Today, for Tomorrow (ACToday) project is no exception. Columbia University has closed its campuses to all but essential personnel. IRI’s staff is now fully set up to work from home. We must keep in mind that the pandemic has not suspended the other challenges countries face in achieving their food security goals. Droughts, storms, and floods will continue to threaten food systems. ACToday’s work is as relevant now as it was before the coronavirus crisis, and perhaps more so as communities are weakened and financial resources are further limited.

We are currently working with each of our country partners to determine several things that will inform how we can continue to make progress.

Here’s a summary of what we know at the moment:

  • As is the case in the U.S., most countries have instituted travel restrictions, restrictions on social gatherings, and business closures.
  • In-country staff from national meteorological agencies, agriculture and health ministries and other key government agencies have been asked to work from home as much as possible. The good news is that ACToday’s installations of the NextGen forecasting system and food security maprooms are online and available for decision makers to use.
  • Connectivity and remote-work challenges vary among the countries, but in general we can expect to continue to have at least limited interactions with our main collaborators via email and conference calls.
  • Planning and activities with health institutions, important to make progress on nutrition goals, are generally on pause, as these institutions shift much of their attention and resources to addressing COVID-19.

A significant portion of our work is training the staff of our host-country partners on all aspects of the climate services chain. The travel bans and restrictions on the sizes of gatherings currently prevent us from giving in-person trainings; our country teams are figuring out which of these trainings can be given online. But we’re facing what most people face who work in development: internet accessibility and connectivity varies considerably among the countries in which we work. For partners who are working from home, we are trying to determine if the computer and internet resources they can access away from the office will enable them to participate. Because of these limitations in connectivity, we are also developing training materials for our partners to download and use later, as opposed to only working interactively in real-time.

We are also learning about how different parts of the food system in each country are currently, and may soon be, affected by the closing of borders and other disruptions to trade and commerce. In many places, farming may be unaffected, but food processing and distribution could be disrupted by worker illness or isolation. Markets, retailers and restaurants may be closed. While these are not climate related, they may influence elements of national-to-local agriculture, food security, and nutrition that ACToday is working on.

As we learn more about the impacts in our partner countries, and adjust to impacts here in New York, we will adjust our approaches to the project. We believe that we can continue to make progress by finding creative work-arounds for the impediments posed by COVID-19. Most importantly, we want our staff and our partners to be safe and healthy. We will update this page as we learn more.