April 14, 2020
The COVID-19 virus has unleashed a global health pandemic and economic crisis, posing unprecedented challenges for food systems around the world. Food supplies could be massively disrupted due to measures put in place to control the spread of COVID-19. The number of people suffering from chronic hunger – estimated at well over 800 million before the crisis – could jump dramatically. Governments, businesses, civil society and international agencies need to take urgent, coordinated action to prevent the COVID pandemic turning into a global food and humanitarian crisis.
The signatories of this Call to Action – comprising major businesses, farmers’ groups, industry, non-governmental organisations and academia – call on world leaders to design COVID-19 response measures that minimise the risks of global and regional food security crises in coming months. We need action in three key areas:
Action 1: Keep the supply of food flowing across the world. COVID-19-related transport and labour disruptions are already starting to impact food security in many locations and food prices in some. Some food surplus nations have already imposed export restrictions. New restrictive rules at ports of entry and borders impede the free flow of food products and compromise the timely supply of essential agricultural inputs. Restrictions on the movement of people – while needed for public health purposes – risk shortages of farm labour at key moments in the farming cycle. The risk of major interruptions to food supplies over the coming months is growing, especially for low-income, net food-importing countries, many of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Governments, international institutions and major private organisations need to act now:
Action 2: Scale support to the most vulnerable. Households across the world are experiencing dramatic falls in income. Much of the short-term contract “gig economy” has evaporated. In many low-income countries, a high proportion of the workforce, employed in the informal sector, is now facing total loss of income. It would not be hard to envisage scenarios in which the number of people suffering from hunger on a daily basis, already estimated at over 800 million, doubles over the coming months with a huge risk of increased malnutrition and child stunting.
Across both developed and developing nations, governments with the help of the private and philanthropic sectors must strengthen and expand their targeted food programmes and income safety nets for social protection, linking them to foods that promote health and sustainable production.
The international community, both multilateral and bilateral agencies, must mobilise significant additional fast-track resources to support low-income countries, especially but not only in Sub-Saharan Africa, to ensure they are able to produce and/or import the food they need to feed their populations. This will need to include budget support over-and-beyond debt relief to help cover the gap caused by reduced export revenues.
Action 3: Invest in sustainable, resilient food systems. The Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) Growing Better report highlights the massive social, economic and environmental benefits which would arise from transforming food and land use systems across the world. Today’s food system is fragile, due to chronic under-investment, over-depletion of natural resources, and the partial misallocation of over $700 billion of annual support measures. There is no short-term fix to these challenges, but we can seize the opportunity to recover in a better and stronger way than before. In the context of their overall recovery programmes:
Domestically, governments must ensure that food and land use sectors are properly funded with long-term capital and incentives that reward the supply of nutritious, affordable food. Investments should focus on increasing the resilience and diversity of food supply chains, including reduced food loss and waste, developing regional food systems, providing vital social protection including free healthcare and income support, accelerating greater digitisation and transparency across the value chain, and rebuilding natural capital.
The international community needs to ensure strong capital and technology flows to developing countries, helping them to strengthen their local food systems, enhance rural prosperity, preserve their irreplaceable natural capital, and meet the standards needed to access global markets.
Getting the food system right is central to a resilient recovery across the world, creating the potential for millions of new jobs, less hunger, greater food security and better management of key natural resources: soil, water, forests and the oceans.
Heeding the United Nations Secretary-General’s call for solidarity, the Food and Land Use Coalition and our partners stand ready to support those who are shaping the response to this unprecedented challenge.
Would like to know more? Please visit the FOLU website.