Our broad aim was to systematically analyse research on the effect of COVID-19 on smallholder farming during 2019–2021 and to discuss how the research could be beneficial to smallholder farm resilience to future pandemics. The review methods were based on PRISMA guidelines, and 53 articles were included in the final review. The review aims to document the social-economic impacts on different groups, barriers and opportunities of smallholder farmers adapting to COVID, and policy options. Barriers to adaptations were considered in only 15% of journal articles, suggesting a research gap. This review highlights the fact that, among others, technology access to ensure information and crisis communication that specifically targets smallholders, as well as multi-layered diversification, serves as good predictors of smallholder adaptation to COVID-19. Multi-layered diversification includes product diversification, market diversification and income stream diversification. This confirms the established knowledge in disasters and livelihood studies where diversification of livelihoods portfolio serves as the key factor to resilience against shocks and crisis. Finally, we summarised the different policy implications arising from the literature. This implies that governments must develop an effective policy-mix that leaves no smallholder farmers behind in future pandemics.