As the pandemic shifts from the European and American epicenters to less developed countries, and claims more victims, the question of how and what people will eat arises. Today, more than 820 million people are hungry, and 144 million children are stunted, even though we produce enough food to feed the entire world population. During the past months, because of the pandemic, vegetables went unpicked from fields, animals were killed and buried beside barns, and supply chains fell apart.
“The number of people who are acutely food or nutrition insecure will rapidly expand. Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruptions in the food supply chain,” Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres said. To avoid the catastrophic effects on the food system, Guterres highlighted the importance of slowing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting those at greater danger. Guterres, in the high-level virtual meeting, asked countries to act on three fronts.
First, he asked nations to designate food and nutrition services as essential to assist vulnerable groups while protecting the food workers who risk their lives by going to work. Guterres also asked states to ensure economic relief to small-scale producers who feed their countries. But the effort should not stop there: “Countries need to scale up support for food processing, transport and local food markets, and they must keep trade corridors open to ensure the continuous functioning of food systems,” Guterres said.
He reminded the attendees that one in five children worldwide are malnourished. Guterres emphasized the importance of nutrition for young children, and also for pregnant women and older people; all groups that are most likely to suffer more from the pandemic’s side effects. “We must strengthen social protection systems for nutrition. Countries need to safeguard access to safe, nutritious foods. And they need to adapt and expand social protection schemes to benefit nutritionally at-risk groups.”
Finally, Guterres shifted his attention to the future. Every disruptive period leaves a chance for change; a change much needed during an era of widening inequalities and quickening impact of climate change. “We must invest in the future,” Guterres said.
“We cannot forget that food systems contribute up to 29 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, including 44 percent of methane, and are having a negative impact on biodiversity.”
With this Brief, the Secretary-General reminded us that if countries act fast, the worst effects of the pandemic can be avoided, and that if things are done right, some positive outcomes might follow.
“We have an opportunity to build a more inclusive and sustainable world,” Guterres said.