Inclusive, resilient & nutritious: food systems post-COVID-19

With zoom meetings now filling our days as events and the workspace going virtual, we food systems affectionados took to twitter. Hosted by the UN Food Systems Summit and the SDG2 Advocacy Hub, the #COVID19foodsystems twitter chat launched a conversation around the impacts of COVID-19 on food systems. A number of leading experts such as Professor of Food Policy Corinna Hawkes at City, Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement and Assistant Secretary-General Gerda Verburg and President of IFAD Gilbert Houngbo, Special Envoy of WHO on COVID-19 David Nabarro and Executive Director of GAIN Lawrence Haddad shared the latest information on the pandemic. Most importantly, the twitter chat created a space for a broader, more diverse audience to tweet and reflect.   

“There’s not a single dimension of the food system that is not being influenced by COVID-19,” highlights Corinna Hawkes in the recent #COVID19foodsystems twitter chat.

Q1While first and foremost a health crisis, the coronavirus has implications for both the global economy and our food systems that we are only beginning to comprehend. Agricultural labour shortages risk widespread crop losses, export restrictions may trigger food shortages and a rise in prices, and school closures leave 300+ million children without school meals are just a few of the new hurdles to overcome if we are to ensure good food for all. 

Over the last few months, COVID-19 has changed how we think of food value chains “showing that the world’s farmers are the backbone of our society and economy. Without farmers, there can be no food systems at all”, as the World Farmers Organisation highlights. When asked what lessons have been learned from COVID-19, nutrition, climate and agriculture advocates alike highlighted the fragility, interconnectivity and inequalities of our food systems – and an effective COVID-19 response must be collective and place vulnerable communities at the centre. 

So how can we build resilience now and ensure future food systems are inclusive and beneficial to all? In the short-term, IFAD identifies the need to scale support for vulnerable populations so they may cope with immediate shocks, particularly smallholder farmers and their families who will be among those hit the hardest, as reminds GAFSP. At a higher level, Power of Nutrition advocates for a nutrition-sensitive health system strengthening approach in the COVID-19 response and FAO works with governments to keep value chains functioning. 

In the longer-term, the Malabo Montpellier Panel calls for a strengthening of national agriculture and nutrition research, mainstreaming nutrition education, empowering women’s groups and the provision of better data for effective interventions. Echoing the newly launched Global Food Policy report 2020, IFPRI points to equipping marginalised people with means for success and creating social protection programmes that safeguard food and nutrition security to build food system resilience.

On the flipside, COVID-19 also presents an opportunity “to commit to the holistic, systematic changes that are required” to transform food systems to nourish both people and planet, says Gerda VerburgLawrence Haddad shares his hopes on how our engagement with food will change in the future:

  1. Recognise the centrality of food to the well-being of all people
  2. Understand that current food systems are not fit for purpose
  3. Build back better
  4. Address inequalities revealed by COVID-19

Innovative ideas given by Prepr on how we can ensure food is accessible, affordable and available for all include localising sustainable food supplies, educating the population on what responsible consumption and production is and making self-grown food the norm.

Q7With a vision to raise awareness around and radically transform our food systems, how is the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 providing an opportunity to build back better? The Summit is a chance to ensure “renewed, significant funding commitments for agricultural research and development… and ensure foods are as nutritious as possible,” says Arun Baral. Slow Food names a key outcome of the Summit that we can all agree on: “food systems that respect those who grow food, the planet and people.”

The final word of the twitter chat went to David Nabarro as he shared his optimism for the Summit “to bring together stakeholders of many sectors: agriculture, environment, climate, biodiversity, oceans, health, economy, peace & security - to foster unusual connections & rebuild a better system,” says David.

“I hope we talk about the future of food with food producers, realise nutrition is key for good health and immunity, respect nature and the environment, and strengthen our solidarity with those who have less access to food systems.”


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