FAO talks about measures to prevent global food crisis (Interview)
BAKU, Azerbaijan, May 21
By Fidan Babayeva - Trend:
So far, COVID-19 has had very little effect on food safety, and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is very focused on nudging all member states including Azerbaijan to take actions that will prevent a global food crisis, FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero said in an interview with Trend.
"There are three broad issues: First, there is ample food in the world, so supply chains need to be kept alive to make sure it arrives where it is needed," Torero added. "Trade, including international trade, has an essential role to play."
"Second, food availability does not automatically mean food accessibility," FAO chief economist said. "Local efforts must make sure that everyone has access to adequate food and nutrition, especially the most vulnerable, who are both at greater risk of suffering and who also need to be enabled to contribute to efforts to contain COVID-19. Third, the economic effect of the pandemic will reduce household incomes, sometimes severely, thus making food relatively harder to afford. This is a particular risk for countries that usually rely on revenues from tourism or mining to pay for food imports."
"We are facing a problem of food access and not of food availability as in 2007-08, when food prices rose sharply," Torero said. "Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are the most vulnerable, as even before the COVID-19 crisis they were home to 73 million of the 135 million people judged to be at IPC level 3 levels of hunger – severe – or worse. Some countries in South Asia and the Near East are also vulnerable."
"It’s important to note that another 183 million people in 47 countries are classified at IPC2, our technical term indicating "stressed" levels of food insecurity, and their situation is at risk of worsening," FAO chief economist said. "It is in these countries where we are also observing significant increases in prices of food. In Sudan, Zambia and Tanzania for example, prices have increased by 21.8 percent, 16.3 percent, 12.1 percent, respectively, compared to February 14. Special attention is needed for the Small Island Development states (SIDS) which are almost all-net food import dependent and are facing significant crises due to the collapse of the tourism industry and the reduction in remittances."
"Everyone wants the COVID-19 pandemic to end," Torero said. "Whenever that happens, however, the world will inevitably face a serious economic contraction, which means that people’s purchasing power is going to be negatively affected. Weaker demand could also negatively affect production trends, shifting effort away from higher-value and more nutritious foods to lower-cost alternative. Policy makers and stakeholders should try to counter this trend by supporting poorer households with income support measures and through initiatives that allow those engaged in the supply chains for higher-value and often-perishable foods to stay in business."
"On the strong side, the global food supply and value chains have held up remarkably well," FAO chief economist said. "There have been some logistics bottlenecks, but these have mostly been or are being resolved. Globally, there are robust reserves of key cereals, which offers a welcome buffer against prolonged stress. On the weak side, the food people eat is often the product of a complex value chain, involving not just cultivation but also packaging, shipping and retail distribution channels, all of which present risks. A chain can only be as strong as its weakest link. That is why FAO Director-General QU Dongyu is urging all countries to boost food output and to shorten supply chains where possible and appropriate. Large-scale efficiency is a huge asset of global food systems but complementary measures are required to ensure reliable food supply for all."
In November 2016 FAO and the Azerbaijani government signed a partnership program for 2016-2020.
Follow the author on Twitter: Fidan_Babaeva