Building resilient food systems in a COVID-19 era

Last June, the United Nations Secretary General made a call to action to avoid an “impending global food emergency that could have long term impacts on hundreds of millions of children and adults”. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, its impact in Asia has been felt throughout the entire economy, severely diminishing growth prospects. Increased poverty levels and disrupted supply chains will thus have a significant impact in the food supply chain – from farm to fork.

From a systemic perspective, these disruptions will reveal interconnected impacts for the environment and the availability and affordability of nutritious foods.

Coming into the pandemic, we already knew that they current food system is not structured to cope with a rapidly growing population, health and climate shocks, and the rise of both hunger and obesity. In this scenario, as estimated 637 million people will be undernourished while health systems could face a bill of US$1.2 trillion every year from 2025 for treating medical conditions related to obesity. In addition, today’s agricultural supply chain, from farm to fork, accounts for between 21-37% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Given the role that agricultural and food value chains play in Asia’s economy, the pandemic underscores the increased level of urgency to build a more resilient food system that is not only able to respond to the current crisis, but that is – in the long term – positioned to provide a growing global population with nutritious foods that are grown and produced sustainably.

Grow Asia, a project that is part of the World Economic Forum’s Shaping the Future of Global Public Goods Platform, was asked by a UN Agency to carry out a consultation with the agri-enterprise sector in the Asia-Pacific area on the future on the region’s food systems. Amongst the 50 companies and 11 networks consulted a high level of consensus and mutual concerns was found. They were concerned about the long-term environmental sustainability of farming, with worries about continuing environmental degradation, compounded by climate change. Food quality was a worry, particularly issues of food safety, as well as food nutrition and human health.

Grahame Dixie is executive director for Grow Asia; and Maria Elena Varas is lead, Food Action Alliance, World Economic Forum.

The full article is featured on the latest edition of Food & Beverage Asia Aug/Sep 2020 issue. To continue reading, click here.