They write open letter to UN, G-20 flagging alert on long-term corona impact on global food system
Some of the world’s leading food security advocates have expressed fear that the current disruption of input supplies, owing to a global Covid-19 pandemic, will affect agriculture adversely for the next 6 to 24 months.
In a recent open letter addressed to the United Nations, G-20, and all national governments, the food security advocates called for urgent action to ensure that adequate credit and agricultural inputs (seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides) are available when and where needed to strengthen the ability of the farmers to deliver.
“Transportation, storage and distribution systems need to be enhanced, including the capacity to change production systems to meet shifting demands. The international community must help the poorest countries with actions on the ground,” the letter reads.
It emphasizes, “The time for action is now.”
The letter signatories include dozens of statesmen, Nobel and food prize laureates, former presidents and prime ministers of several countries, current and former ministers and current and former officials of food security institutions and think-tanks.
Their appeal for immediate action comes at a time when thousands of people in over 200 countries of the world got infected and died of Covid-19 pandemic and millions more are in fear of a looming hunger scenario mostly due to food production and supply chain disruptions caused by prolonged lockdowns.
Their letter reads, “We are writing to call for a set of internationally coordinated, locally relevant actions to address the medium- and longer-term impacts of COVID-19 on agriculture, food, and nutrition security. The current global health crisis has disrupted supply chains and laid bare the need to address the inter-related challenges of hunger, malnutrition, climate change, and environmental degradation and has emphasized the need for concerted, proactive and collective actions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in 2015.”
They say, “While the COVID19 pandemic is a major public health crisis, food systems around the world are also under great stress.”
“Consumers are paying higher prices, supply chains are disrupted, children are deprived of school feeding programs and families who rely on food assistance are struggling. Farmers have lost their markets and are worried about harvesting their current crop and planting for the next season.”
The open letter further reads, “Some governments have responded to the crisis with export bans and import restrictions, which can exacerbate price swings and trade tensions that were already high before the COVID-19 outbreak. Governments must keep trade flows open with sensible export and import policies. Others have responded with humanitarian actions and have tried to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of the food supply chains. While these efforts have been laudable, they are not at the desired scale.”
They call for rebuilding resilient local and regional supply chains based on diversified local food systems and sustainable natural resource management. Concerted actions are urgently needed to ensure crops can be harvested and planted in the coming months and establishing efficient food collection and distribution systems that can deliver nutritious food to hungry people, especially women and children, they add.
Short-term actions apart, they also emphasize on addressing several long-term implications of the crisis for global food systems.
“Achieving the SDGs will require actions on the agriculture and food security fronts, and such actions should be at local, national, regional and global level through a well monitored and coordinated approach. Before COVID-19 struck, many countries were lagging in attaining the SDGs. COVID-19 will push those efforts further behind, and thus many countries need to reconsider how best to provide for the food and nutrition security of their populations in the event of long-term supply or demand side disruptions due to public health and its economic effects, while still thinking of environmental and climatic factors.”
They note COVID-19 has demonstrated a profound impact that human activities have on the environment.
“Greenhouse gas emissions are declining; water and air quality are improving; birds and wildlife are returning to forsaken habitats. But we recognize that the economic and social costs of the abrupt economic shutdown are not acceptable over the long term, yet it is an opportunity to re-emphasize the importance of conserving natural resources, especially agro-biodiversity, increasing carbon sequestration, improving soil health and water quality, generation of renewable energy, scientific eco-regional planning, efficient water and nutrient use, diversification, greater dependence on locally available plant-based food systems, etc.”
They say disruptive innovations are needed to increase productivity and income through precision farming and timely delivery of inputs to farmers’ fields, through a 'More from Less' approach.
“Research should also help bring new technologies to markets, including 'out-of-the-box' ideas such as meats from single cell proteins to biofuels from algae; from accelerated fish farming to improved livestock breeding to plant-based proteins. Such frameworks should enable rapid movement from 'lab to land' and from 'farm gate to consumer plate'.”
They conclude by hoping that the UN will be holding the Food Systems Summit in 2021 and that will be a major opportunity to craft a well-organized global effort to address these challenges.
Ex-Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown; Vice Chair, Board of Trustees, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington DC, Derek Byerlee; Former Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, S. Ayyappan; Former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz; President of Bread for the World and Alliance to End Hunger, David Beckmann; President of The Tropical Agricultural Association, UK, Andrew Bennett; Director General of International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, India, Peter Carberry; former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark; Cornell University Professors, Ronnie Coffman; ex-President of Rockefeller Foundation, Gordon R Conway; Former Director Generals of IFPRI, Shenggen Fan and Joachim Von Braun; former President of Finland, TarjaHalonen; ex-Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, Justin Yifu Lin; World Food Prize Laureate, M.S. Swaminathan; and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Muhammad Yunus are among the signatories of the open letter.