PARIS - Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, global food systems were faced with a formidable “triple challenge” of simultaneously providing food security and nutrition to a growing global population, ensuring the livelihoods of millions of people working along the food chain from farm to fork, and ensuring the environmental sustainability of the sector. Yet policy efforts have not been moving in this direction, and global trade in agriculture and food remains highly distorted.

COVID-19 is compelling policy makers to make urgent decisions to ensure food supply chains continue to function, but the fundamental task is to address these immediate disruptions while also investing in the long-term goal of a resilient, sustainable and productive global food system. Ending inefficient and environmentally harmful support would free up resources for a more forward-looking policy package. The unanticipated shock of COVID-19 underscores the urgency of moving away from “business as usual”.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global humanitarian crisis with tragic loss of life and enormous economic repercussions. At the beginning of April 2020, more than half of the global population was ordered to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus. Unemployment rates have soared as businesses have been forced to stay closed; some may never re-open.

Global food systems are also under stress, since measures to limit the spread of the disease have spill-over impacts on the movement of people and products. As described in COVID-19 and the Food and Agriculture Sector: Issues and Policy Responses the COVID-19 crisis is affecting supply and demand for food in complex ways.

Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, global food systems were faced with a formidable “triple challenge” of simultaneously providing food security and nutrition to a growing global population, ensuring the livelihoods of millions of people working along the food chain from farm to fork, and ensuring the environmental sustainability of the sector. The world’s population is expected to reach almost 10 billion in 2050, requiring a significant increase in the production of affordable, healthy and nutritious food. Global food systems are also essential to the livelihoods of people working on the more than 570 million farms worldwide.

Along the agro-food chain, food systems are an especially important source of livelihoods in developing countries. Moreover, global food systems are not only dependent upon sustainable natural resources, but are responsible for the vast majority of global land and water use, and are an important source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The manner in which food systems absorb, recover, adapt and transform in response to the shock of COVID-19 will shape their level of resilience and their ability to deliver on the longer-term triple challenge. Policies and approaches to address both the dramatic short-term shocks and to enhance long-term resilience are essential, and those that encourage global food systems rather than domestic self-sufficiency will be more effective at meeting the triple challenge.

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