As the impacts of Covid-19 take their toll on human health and well-being across world, the imperative of producing and ensuring access to healthy food for each and every one of us must not be overlooked.
The food systems that must give us daily sustenance are under threat by the pandemic. If we want to avoid what could be the worst food crisis in modern history, we need robust and strategic international co-operation at an extraordinary scale.
Even before the pandemic, global food systems and food security were strained by many factors, including pests, poverty, conflicts and the impacts of climate change. According to the latest Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, last year close to 690 million – or nearly one in 10 people in the world – were hungry. The pandemic could push an additional 130 million people worldwide into chronic hunger by the end of this year.
Last year, 3billion people did not have access to healthy diets and suffered from other forms of malnutrition. Due to the pandemic and related containment measures, we have already experienced disruptions in global food supply chains, labour shortages and lost harvests. Now we are seeing a delayed planting season.
About 4.5billion people depend on food systems for their jobs and livelihoods, working to produce, collect, store, process, transport and distribute food to consumers, as well as to feed themselves and their families.
The pandemic has put 35% of food system employment at risk, affecting women at an even higher rate.
Together we can – and must – limit Covid-19’s damaging effects on food security and nutrition.
From the beginning of the pandemic, the FAO has actively supported countries and farmers to work on scalable and sustainable solutions to help ensure nutritious food for all.
But to catalyse and build on these solutions, a business as usual approach will not suffice.
First, we need better data for better decision-making. Timely and effective responses to the impact of Covid-19 depend upon knowing exactly where and when support is needed, as well as how that support can be implemented best. This means up-scaling work on data, information and analysis.
Second, we must increase the synergy of our collective actions. Pooling all available data, efforts and resources for synergistic action will be paramount.
An effective response to the pandemic also calls for joint humanitarian action, particularly to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable smallholder and family farmers. We must thoughtfully and adequately increase collaboration and partnerships.
Third, we must accelerate innovation. New investment strategies, digital technology and infrastructure innovation are essential to obtaining better data, increasing efficiency in food production and providing market access.
Prevention of food crises cannot wait until the health crisis is over, nor can we simply aim to return to the unacceptable levels of hunger and food insecurity seen before the pandemic.
FAO is placing its convening power, real-time data, early warning systems and technical expertise at the world’s disposal. Together, we can help the most vulnerable, increase resilience to shocks and accelerate the rebuilding of our food systems.
By Qu Dongyu
*Dongyu is director-general of Food and Agriculture Organization with the UN