A Call to Action for world leaders preventing a global food security crisis while combating COVID-19

Soil in Babati, Tanzania. Credit: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/S. Malyon

COVID-19 is posing unprecedented challenges for food systems around the world. The Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU), together with the Alliance, farmers’ groups, industry, non-governmental organisations, academia and major businesses, calls on world leaders to design COVID-19 response measures that minimise the risks of global and regional food security crises in coming months.

The COVID-19 outbreak has unleashed a global health pandemic and economic crisis, posing unprecedented challenges for food systems around the world. Food supplies could be massively disrupted due to measures put in place to control the spread of COVID-19. The number of people suffering from chronic hunger – estimated at well over 800 million before the crisis – could jump dramatically. Governments, businesses, civil society and international agencies need to take urgent, coordinated action to prevent the COVID pandemic turning into a global food and humanitarian crisis.

The signatories of this Call to Action – comprising major businesses, farmers’ groups, industry, non-governmental organisations and academia – call on world leaders to design COVID-19 response measures that minimise the risks of global and regional food security crises in coming months. We need action in three key areas:

  1. Keep the supply of food flowing across the world – maintain open trade
  2. Scale support to the most vulnerable – ensure access to nutritious, affordable food for all
  3. Invest in sustainable, resilient food systems – sow seeds of recovery for people and planet.

Action 1: Keep the supply of food flowing across the world

A farmer transports garlic in India. Credit: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/C.Zanzanaini

COVID-19-related transport and labour disruptions are already starting to impact food security in many locations and food prices in some. Some food surplus nations have already imposed export restrictions. New restrictive rules at ports of entry and borders impede the free flow of food products and compromise the timely supply of essential agricultural inputs. Restrictions on the movement of people – while needed for public health purposes – risk shortages of farm labour at key moments in the farming cycle. The risk of major interruptions to food supplies over the coming months is growing, especially for low-income, net foodimporting countries, many of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Governments, international institutions and major private organisations need to act now:

  • Major food exporting nations must make it clear that they will continue to fully supply international markets and customers. Importing countries must play their part as well by keeping ports and borders open while continuing to ensure proper food safety provisions are in place. There could not be a more important time in which to keep trade flows open and predictable.
     
  • All governments must invest in local food production, treating farmers, farm input providers, farm labourers, food processers and food distributers as part of an essential sector, like public health workers, and prioritise support for their continued employment, as well as health and safety, on the front line of this global crisis.
     
  • Governments must ensure that public and private financial resources continue to flow all the way to the farm-gate, and major food companies and banks should be proactive in extending low-rate credit to the farming community and along the food value chain throughout this crisis.

Action 2: Scale support to the most vulnerable

A woman preparing coconuts for sale in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/P.Mathur

Households across the world are experiencing dramatic falls in income. Much of the short-term contract ‘gig economy’ has evaporated. In many low-income countries, a high proportion of the workforce, employed in the informal sector, is now facing total loss of income. It would not be hard to envisage scenarios in which the number of people suffering from hunger on a daily basis, already estimated at over 800 million, doubles over the coming months with a huge risk of increased malnutrition and child stunting.

  • Across both developed and developing nations, governments with the help of the private and philanthropic sectors must strengthen and expand their targeted food programmes and income safety nets for social protection, linking them to foods that promote health and sustainable production.
     
  • The international community, both multilateral and bilateral agencies, must mobilise significant additional fast-track resources to support low-income countries, especially but not only in Sub-Saharan Africa, to ensure they are able to produce and/or import the food they need to feed their populations. This will need to include budget support over-and-beyond debt relief to help cover the gap caused by reduced export revenues.

Action 3: Invest in sustainable, resilient food systems

A quinoa farmer in Bolivia. Credit: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT/S.Padulosi

The Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) ‘Growing Better’ report highlights the massive social, economic and environmental benefits which would arise from transforming food and land use systems across the world. Today’s food system is fragile, due to chronic under-investment, overdepletion of natural resources, and the partial misallocation of over $700 billion of annual support measures. There is no short-term fix to these challenges, but we can seize the opportunity to recover in a better and stronger way than before. In the context of their overall recovery programmes:

  • Domestically, governments must ensure that food and land use sectors are properly funded with long-term capital and incentives that reward the supply of nutritious, affordable food. Investments should focus on increasing the resilience and diversity of food supply chains, including reduced food loss and waste, developing regional food systems, providing vital social protection including free healthcare and income support, accelerating greater digitisation and transparency across the value chain, and rebuilding natural capital.
     
  • The international community needs to ensure strong capital and technology flows to developing countries, helping them to strengthen their local food systems, enhance rural prosperity, preserve their irreplaceable natural capital, and meet the standards needed to access global markets.

Getting the food system right is central to a resilient recovery across the world, creating the potential for millions of new jobs, less hunger, greater food security and better management of key natural resources: soil, water, forests and the oceans. Heeding the United Nations Secretary-General’s call for solidarity, the Food and Land Use Coalition and our partners stand ready to support those who are shaping the response to this unprecedented challenge.

SIGNED BY

Agnes Kalibata, President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
Alan Jope, CEO, Unilever
Albert van Jaarsveld, Director General and CEO, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
André Hoffmann, Vice-President, Roche Group, President, MAVA Foundation
Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Institute
Anna Skarbek, Chief Executive Officer, ClimateWorks Australia
Ann Tutwiler, Senior Fellow, Meridian Institute
Claudia Martinez, Director, E3-Ecologia, Economia y Etica David Nabarro, Curator, Food Systems Dialogues
Diane Holdorf, Managing Director of Food and Nature, World Business Council for Sustainable Development
Elise Buckle, President and Director, Climate and Sustainability, Coordinator, Planetary Emergency Partnership
Emmanuel Faber, Chairman and CEO, Danone
Feike Sijbesma, Honorary Chairman, Royal DSM
Gerda Verburg, United Nations Assistant Secretary General, Coordinator of the SUN Movement
Guido Schmidt-Traub, Executive Director, Sustainable Development Solutions Network
Gunhild Stordalen, Founder and Executive Chair, EAT
Gwenaël Postec, Founder and Managing Director, OpenForêt
Hunter Lovins, President, Natural Capitalism Solutions
Ishmael Sunga, CEO, Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU)
Jai Shroff, Global CEO, UPL Limited
Jeremy Oppenheim, Senior Partner, SYSTEMIQ
Jessica Fanzo, Bloomberg Associate Professor of Global Food Policy and Ethics, Johns Hopkins University
José Antonio Ocampo, Professor, Columbia University
Juan Lucas Restrepo, Director General, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT
Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)
Line Gordon, Director, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Marco Lambertini, Director General, WWF International
Mark Malloch-Brown, Co-Chair, UN Foundation 
Mark Schneider, Chief Executive Officer, Nestlé S.A
Michael Obersteiner, Director, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University Centre for the Environment
Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson, Global Environment Facility (GEF)
Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, Managing Partner, Sahel Consulting Agriculture and Nutrition
Nicolás Cock Duque, President, Bioprotection Global
Ntiokam Divine, Founder and Managing Director, Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network
Paul Polman, Chair, International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)
Peter Bakker, President and CEO, World Business Council for Sustainable Development
Ramon Laguarta, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo
Sally Jewell, CEO, The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Co-President, The Club of Rome
Segenet Kelemu, Director General and CEO, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe)
Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
Shenggen Fan, Chair Professor, China Agricultural University
Sue Pritchard, Director, Food, Farming and Countryside Commission
Sunny Verghese, Co-Founder and Group CEO, Olam
Svein Tore Holsether, CEO, Yara
Theo de Jager, President, World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO)
Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa
Vijay Kumar, Distinguished Fellow, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Vineet Rai, Chairman, Aavishkaar Group
Wiebe Draijer, Chairman of the Managing Board, Rabobank

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