Although we knew it could happen, the covid-19 pandemic has surprised us and, in just a few months, it has transformed all our expectations and expectations, as well as testing our capabilities. It is still early to know its size or to make reliable forecasts about its duration, but we can already advance that it is going to change everyone’s life and is affecting the different key systems for the survival of our societies. With this, the implementation of the right to food in all countries of the world is threatened.
As the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres pointed out: “The pandemic is a public health emergency, but it is much more. It is an economic, social and human crisis that is rapidly becoming a Human Rights crisis. ”
The crisis overlaps other phenomena that affect millions of people in different parts of the world: the locust plague in East Africa, conflicts that directly or indirectly affect dozens of countries, extreme weather including droughts and floods, and economic shocks that affect to key sectors in some countries, such as oil exporters. Previously, there were already 821 million people suffering from chronic hunger, and 135 million, in more than 50 countries, face acute hunger. Since 2015, both the prevalence of undernourishment and acute hunger have been increasing. At the other extreme of malnutrition, two out of five adults are overweight, and obesity among the child and adolescent population grew more than 130% between 2000 and 2016.
In this scenario of uncertainty and fear, there is a risk of uncoordinated and inefficient actions that will worsen the situation for everyone and, in particular, for the most vulnerable.
A Human Rights-based approach, such as the one adopted by different countries through the right to adequate food, provides successful mechanisms to strengthen governance in terms of participation, inclusion, and improvement of the quality and relevance of information for information collection. of decisions. It is important to ensure that the needs of all groups are taken into account, especially those who are most vulnerable and who hardly have a voice in decision-making areas. In turn, it is essential to be able to channel the different interests so that the action is fairer and more effective.
It is also necessary to mobilize the capacities and commitment of the different actors if we really want to have results: that parliamentarians quickly reach agreements to approve budgets and the necessary legislative changes, that universities mobilize their talent to provide proven and relevant knowledge and information for decision-making, or for consumer organizations to play a leading role in detecting fraud attempts that affect health or prices.
From a half-full glass perspective, since the start of the pandemic there has been a notable effort to tackle the urgent in terms of containing its expansion and alleviating the economic effect on access to food and basic goods and services. For example, more than 170 countries have adopted nearly 800 social protection measures that include monetary transfers, food deliveries, subsidies on basic services … In general, countries have worked to keep food supply and trade in good working order, avoiding panic situations that would have been disastrous.
More than 170 countries have adopted nearly 800 social protection measures that include cash transfers, food deliveries, subsidies in basic services
But you also have to think about the medium and long term and ensure that all the people who participate in the food chains are going to be in a position to resume or continue their activity. Otherwise, we will not only witness an increase in hunger and poverty, but we will also face supply problems for the entire population and an expansion of malnutrition among all socioeconomic groups, including those who think they are safe.
A first measure that has already been taken in some countries is to facilitate access to credit, so that food producers and processors have liquidity to access the inputs necessary for their activity. This, while important, is insufficient. It must be ensured that this access to credit and inputs is effective for all, since many times the channels used reach a small percentage of producers. Also, that all producers and actors in the food chain can adapt to ensure their own health and that of others. This involves improving access to appropriate protective equipment and changing procedures and processes. Large corporations in the food chain have human and financial resources that allow them to face these adaptations with a good chance of success.
Instead, many small and medium businesses and producers that are part of the food chain will have serious difficulties adapting if they do not have technical and communication support, even if they have access to financial resources. Experience shows that, in past crises such as avian influenza or SARS, large companies recovered and gained market share, while small and medium-sized ones suffered a negative impact in the medium and long term.
Therefore, it is important that the response policies for the agri-food sector take into account the strengthening of capacities and the empowerment of small and medium producers, and also of companies to protect themselves and adapt in a context in which it will be necessary to live with successive outbreaks and new social guidelines as long as there is no vaccine.
Designing and putting into practice policies that help all the actors in the agri-food chain to adapt to this new context and to face future turmoil is essential for health policies to be effective. Also, for a recovery of employment and local economies that ensures economic inclusion and the right to food for all.
Juan Carlos García and Cebolla He is the leader of the FAO Right to Food team.
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