Countries need to be prepared for future food ‘shocks’ after pandemic, says FAO

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Countries need to make their agrifood systems more resilient to sudden shocks of the kind witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has emerged as a major driver of the latest rise in global hunger estimates, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said in a report, adding that without proper preparation unpredictable shocks will continue to undermine agrifood systems.

This year’s The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report by FAO provides an assessment of the ability of national agrifood systems to respond to or recover readily from shocks and stressors. It also offers guidance to governments on how they can improve resilience.

There are approximately 3 billion people who cannot afford a healthy diet today, and the FAO report estimates that an additional 1 billion people would join their ranks if a shock reduced incomes by one-third. Moreover, food costs could increase for up to 845 million people if a disruption to critical transport links were to occur.

The report defines shocks as “short-term deviations from long-term trends that have substantial negative effects on a system, people’s state of well-being, assets, livelihoods, safety and ability to withstand future shocks.” Examples include extreme weather events and surges in plant and animal diseases and pests.

Even before COVID-19 broke out, the world was not on track to meet its commitment to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030. And while food production and supply chains have historically been vulnerable to climate extremes, armed conflicts or increases in global food prices, the frequency and severity of such shocks is on the rise.

“The pandemic highlighted both the resilience and the weakness of our agrifood systems,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu at a virtual event for the launch, which also featured a presentation by FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero Cullen and a panel discussion with policymakers and academics.

The world’s agrifood systems – the complex web of activities involved in the production of food and non-food agricultural products, as well as their storage, processing, transportation, distribution and consumption, produce 11 billion tonnes of food a year and employ billions of people, directly or indirectly. The urgency of strengthening their capacity to endure shocks cannot be stressed enough.

See full report here

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