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FAO: Concerted effort needed to prevent Covid-19-related food crisis

The Food Coalition is expected to support existing and future efforts to overcome the pandemic's disruptive impacts.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation has reiterated the need for concerted action to prevent a Covid-19 health emergency from triggering a world food crisis.

FAO has launched the Food Coalition, what it described as a "network of networks" to support initiatives that improve food access.

A statement on the website describes the Food Coalition as a voluntary multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral alliance set up to support innovative initiatives to ensure global food access and increase the resilience of agri-food systems.

It was first suggested by the Government of Italy and has more than 30 countries already expressing interest in joining.

The Food Coalition is expected to support existing and future efforts to overcome the pandemic's disruptive impacts.

FAO Director-General QU Dongyu opened the high-level virtual launch event with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy and Deputy Prime Minister Carola Schouten of the Netherlands, the two countries that have already pledged and delivered financial resources and technical support to the Food Coalition.

"We must increase the exchange of knowledge and leverage global momentum to promote food security and nutrition," the FAO Director-General said.

"The aim is to build a global alliance with a network of national governments, international organizations, thought leaders, civil societies and the private sector working together for a unified global action," he added.

Tawakkol Karman, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize also spoke at the event, along with Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Prize. Both are members of FAO's Nobel Peace Laureates Alliance for Food Security and Peace.

"No leader should allow a world overflowing with food to let people be hungry," said Prime Minister Conte. "In front of the pandemic we need to redouble our efforts and reinforce our traditional commitment to help the most vulnerable," he said.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made FAO the leading organisation of efforts to end hunger, much as it was established to do after the scourge of world war, said Karman.

How it works

Covid-19 may add up to 132 million more people to the ranks of the world's undernourished this year, on top of the 690 million hungry people in 2019.

According to Mokhtar Ghambou, many African countries continue to suffer from famine, malnutrition and food shortages despite the abundance of arable land and availability of a young labour force.

Ghambou is a former Professor at Yale and is Morocco’s Ambassador to Kenya and Burundi and its Permanent Representative at Unep.

He says Africa’s rapid economic growth over the past two decades does not seem to help either. As the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports, 256 million African people (one fifth of the continent’s population) remain hungry today.

"One does not need to be an expert to diagnose the problem. Recurrent droughts, floods, locust outbreaks, and all other natural disasters associated with climate change seriously undermine Africa’s efforts to overcome food insecurity. However, the problem is too complex to be reduced to weather vagaries alone."

Regional conflicts, the drain of young manual labour, and bad governance are also responsible for increasing food insecurity across the continent.

"Even a country like South Africa, whose agricultural sector is ranked among the best in the continent, is not immune to food insecurity. According to the government’s statistical release, there were “13.8 million living below the Food Poverty Line in 2015.”

The Food Coalition involves a devoted trust fund and a web-based hub allowing participants to access a basket of project-focused information and data, as well as the funding and types of assistance needed for many on-the-ground projects.

Areas of focus range from integrated social protection policies in Latin America and boosting capacities to contrast Antimicrobial Resistance in Africa.

"Covid-19 has taught us that we need to increase the resilience of agri-food systems, both to be ready to minimise risks and to be able to cope with risks when they occur," said FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero.

In July, FAO released a Covid-19 Response and Recovery Programme designed around seven priority areas of work to help countries deal with immediate crises triggered by the pandemic.

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