The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) identified the priority areas to make agri-food systems more resilient to sudden, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, in its “The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2021” report.
The report’s main objective is to guide governments to become more resilient to crises and able to recover faster. It also acknowledges that the world was not on track to meet its commitment to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030 and the pandemic only made things worse. “The pandemic highlighted both the resilience and the weakness of our agri-food systems,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.
Fragile agri-food systems are already affecting 3 billion people by barring them from a healthy diet, with an additional 1 billion on the verge of joining this risk group if a shock reduces their income by one-third. This scenario is possible given the cracks in critical transport links, which would increase food costs for approximately 845 million people.
Under these circumstances, the sector must focus on prevention, anticipation, absorption, adaptation and transformation. “Absorptive capacity is critical in confronting unforeseen shocks and is complementary to risk management of shocks that can be anticipated,” reads the report. The key to developing this absorptive capacity is the diversification of food sources (domestic production, imports, or existing stocks) and actors in food supply chains. Food chains also need redundant and robust transport networks to provide an affordable, healthy diet to all households, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.
The sector should also be prepared for future crises to avoid collapse. FAO recommends regular multi-risk assessments, timely forecasts, early warning systems and action plans. Ensuring economic access to sufficient food for a healthy diet at all times is also key to agri-food systems’ resilience. “Policies and investments that reduce poverty, generate decent employment and expand access to education and basic services, as well as social protection programs when needed, are essential building blocks of resilience.”
At this point, it is essential to identify and apply key interventions to enhance the resilience of individual supply chain actors, upon which national agri-food systems rely. Public policies also need to focus on helping small-scale producers, small and medium enterprises and vulnerable households gain access to business tools they need to become more resilient.