10 June 2020

Global Food System Must Be Transformed as Pandemic-Induced Economic Recession Threatens Supply, Livelihoods, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Group of Friends

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Group of Friends of Food Security and Nutrition, in New York today:

Since the Group of Friends of Food Security and Nutrition convened in April, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to spread globally, causing deep suffering.

The situation remains uncertain and unpredictable.  So far, some 400,000 people have died and there are almost 6.5 million confirmed cases around the world.  Behind these figures there is an unprecedented human tragedy.  The crisis is taking a devastating toll on economies, livelihoods, families and communities.

It is having a particularly dramatic impact in developing countries that have fewer resources and weaker social safety nets.  Among the challenges facing people in all regions is the threat the pandemic poses to food security and nutrition — especially for the world’s most vulnerable communities.

The pandemic mitigation measures and the emerging global recession could disrupt the functioning of food systems with potentially dire consequences.  Without immediate action, we risk spiralling into a global food emergency.  That is the message of the Secretary-General’s Policy Brief on the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition.

While global markets in staple grains remain robust, and stocks of most staple foods are adequate for now, the economic recession will bring new challenges.

Food is essential and its provision employs more than 1 billion people.  Yet, the pandemic is expected to slash global economic output by $8.5 trillion over the next two years, putting the jobs and livelihoods of tens of millions at risk.

The brief recognizes that, even prior to the pandemic, hundreds of millions of people were grappling with hunger and malnutrition.

It further reminds us that we also face a climate crisis and other severe challenges that are deeply connected with our food systems, such as conflicts, natural disasters and unprecedented pest threats, such as desert locusts.

The COVID-19 pandemic raises the alarm about the urgent need to transform the world’s food systems.  We need to rapidly rethink how we produce, process, market and consume our food and dispose of waste.  We should turn this crisis into an opportunity to rebalance and transform our food systems, making them more inclusive, sustainable and resilient.

The Policy Brief suggests three mutually reinforcing sets of priority actions to address immediate and medium-term needs to protect people during and beyond the crisis, and — ultimately — to reshape and build resilient food systems.

First, we must mobilize to save lives and livelihoods, focusing attention where the risk is most acute.  That means countries should:  designate food and nutrition services as essential, while implementing appropriate protections for food workers; make sure that critical humanitarian food, livelihood and nutrition assistance continues to be delivered to vulnerable groups; keep trade corridors open and ensure the continuity of agricultural supply chains; and ensure that relief and stimulus packages reach the most vulnerable.

This includes meeting the liquidity needs of small-scale food producers and rural businesses, particularly those led by women and young people, supported at the international level in a coordinated manner that is responsive to evolving national financing needs.

Second, we must strengthen social protection systems for nutrition.  This means that countries must safeguard access to safe, nutritious foods, particularly for young children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, older people and other at-risk groups.

For example, before the pandemic, there were already 144 million stunted children.  Every percentage point drop in global gross domestic product (GDP) means an additional 0.7 million stunted children.

And countries need to adapt and expand social protection schemes to benefit nutritionally at-risk groups, including children who no longer have access to school meals, currently estimated at nearly 370 million.

Third, we must invest in the future and transform our food systems.  Accelerated investment in food systems transformation should be a pillar of the COVID-19 response, aiming for immediate impact to sustain and improve livelihoods, while also preparing for a more inclusive, environmentally sustainable and resilient food system.

The Sustainable Development Goals offer a blueprint for building back better, with food systems representing an essential tool.  The Secretary-General is convening a Food Systems Summit in 2021, precisely to mobilize around accelerated and collective action for people and planet.

The current pandemic has highlighted our fragility, but also the interconnected nature of our world.  It underscores the need to work together to address global challenges.

We must come together now to avoid the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security and nutrition — and we can do so in a way that supports the green transition that we need to make.  Ultimately, this brief reminds us that, as a global community, the question is not whether we will get through this crisis.  We will.  The question is what kind of world we want to live in on the other side of it.

As we work to overcome the crisis of today, we must not allow it to roll back hard won gains on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development or turn our attention from our collective drive to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources.

These are the conditions that will allow us to be more prepared and more resilient to future shocks and crises.  This is the world we want and that we need.

For information media. Not an official record.