Viewpoint by Angélica Maria Jácome Daza
The writer is FAO Director, Office for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs).
BRUSSELS (IDN) – The possible food crisis that could be triggered by the effects of COVID-19 differs significantly from traditional food crises brought on by conflict or natural disasters. In contrast to the food crisis of 2007 and 2008, the current challenge is about ensuring food access, not food availability.
The devastating impact of the pandemic and the related lockdowns on the global economy have placed food security and nutrition at risk, generating new food insecurity hotspots; with the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) being among those facing the greatest threat.
Why are islands at greatest risk?
Experience has demonstrated that SIDS are particularly vulnerable to external economic shocks, climate change and natural disasters. During the Great Recession, SIDS saw their incomes plunge. And generally speaking, these islands have limited access to global markets given their remote locations.
Moreover, vulnerability is compounded by the fact that many SIDS rely on food imports as well as revenue from the tourism industry. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) projects a 60 to 80 per cent decline in international tourism as a result of the pandemic.
The impact of the lockdown on the flow of remittances may also affect household wages. In addition, the consumption of more economical and non-perishable, but highly processed food, further aggravates the emerging challenge of malnutrition and high rates of diet-related non-communicable diseases.
In this complex context, many SIDS also face an active cyclone or hurricane season, which could exacerbate the challenging situation.
What can we do about it?
While a one-size-fits-all approach does not exist, support to SIDS to build back better – through sustained efforts to increase their resilience and diversify income sources – is essential. It is also vital to maintain a functioning food supply chain supported by COVID-19 protocols.
The provision of emergency food assistance, coupled with the strengthening of social protection programmes, plays an important role in mitigating the negative impacts of the pandemic on food security and livelihoods of the most vulnerable populations.
Net food importers should consider diversifying strategies to boost their resilience to shocks through, among others, increasing intra-regional trade; increasing local vegetable production, which is more cost-effective through controlled environments; incentivizing the use of home gardens to produce fresh foods; offering digital services for agriculture; and exploring innovative production methods. In turn, these measures could spark a new virtuous economic cycle in which a reactivated tourism industry buys local.
Similarly, complemented by reliable information related to the purchase and consumption of nutritious foods, the increased availability of fresh foods could contribute to an improved nutritional situation.
It is also of paramount importance to recognize the evolving nature of the pandemic, which demands swift and flexible responses. At the same time, it is necessary to accept the uncertainty surrounding the expected duration of COVID-19. We must prepare and be ready to respond accordingly with programmes that will sustain the lives and livelihoods of those most affected, by building more resilient food systems.
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic offers a unique opportunity to bring about structural change. We cannot go back to a “normal” where 75 million children under age five are stunted, and where 135 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity. We must act now and unite to rebuild a better tomorrow, end hunger and achieve food security and nutrition for all. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 December 2020]
Photo credit: FAO
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