Addressing Food, Nutrition Security Challenges of Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound implications for food security and nutrition. A number of overlapping and reinforcing dynamics have emerged such as disruptions to food supply chains; loss of income and livelihoods; a widening of inequality; disruptions to social protection programs; altered food environments; and uneven food prices in localized contexts. The FAO’s High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) published an issues paper in September 2020, ‘Impacts of Covid-19 on Food Security and Nutrition: Developing Effective Policy Responses to Address the Hunger and Malnutrition Pandemic’. It provides a comprehensive and in-depth review of the main trends affecting food systems that have resulted from COVID-19 and associated lockdown. It also expands the analysis of the pandemic’s implications for the various dimensions of food security: availability, access, stability, utilization, agency and sustainability.
The global economic recession triggered by lockdowns has had a very negative impact on people’s ability to access food and their ability to afford a healthy diet, especially in low and middle-income countries. The pandemic has also widened inequities including access to clean water and safe sanitation. Food system producers and workers have been on the front lines and have suffered higher rates of disease and are affected by supply chain disruptions the most. The pandemic has also negatively affected women’s economic and social empowerment, which limits their agency. There is the risk that attention and funding will be diverted from climate change and environmental concerns such as biodiversity loss which can affect longer-term sustainability in the food system.
The HLPE’s Global Narrative report, published earlier in 2020, proposed four urgent policy shifts necessary to achieve food security and nutrition and secure the right to food: (1) a transformation of food systems as a whole, (2) shape food policies in ways that recognize inter-system linkages, (3) incorporate a greater understanding of the complex interaction of different forms of malnutrition occurring simultaneously within societies, including hunger, undernutrition obesity and micronutrient deficiencies, and (4) transformative food policies must also be flexible to allow for diverse approaches, including the variable impact on food system workers, farmers in different countries and for different crops, gender-differentiated impacts and populations in crisis contexts.
The HLPE issues paper on the pandemic makes several recommendations to support these broad shifts as follows:
(1) Implement more robust targeted social protection programmes to improve access to healthy and nutritious foods. These include: emergency food aid, debt relief to governments, robust social safety nets, food assistance programs, alternatives to school lunch programs when schools are closed, and adequate access to health care.
(2) Ensure better protection for vulnerable and marginalized food system workers and farmers who are disproportionately affected by the crisis. This includes access to safe working conditions and paid sick leave, access to social protection and adequate living conditions.
(3) Provide better protections for countries that depend on food imports. This includes: discouraging food export restrictions, provide policy space and support to countries seeking to improve their domestic food production capacity, and building up better long-term grain storage capacity.
(4) Strengthen and coordinate policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic impact on food systems and food security and nutrition, including at the international level. This includes creating a task force led by the CFS to track the food security impacts of COVID-19.
(5) Support more diverse and resilient distribution systems, including shorter supply chains and territorial markets. Consider adopting stronger regulation to empower small and medium agrifood enterprises to participate in national, regional and global supply chains.
(6) Support more resilient food production systems based on agroecology and other sustainable forms of food production. Ensure sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, as well as animal production and forestry, are integrated with policy responses to COVID-19.
The full issues paper is available here:
– Third World Network