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The Committee on Food Security (CFS) is holding a special session on ‘COVID-19 and its Impacts on Global Food Security and Nutrition’ on the 14th of October.
Yet a coordinated international political response to COVID-19 impacts on food security is still awaited. The pandemic has shed light on the vulnerabilities and lack of resilience of failing food systems, especially those highly dependent on imports or exports. As Action Against Hunger put forward immediate impacts of COVID-19 on the humanitarian world, food security and human rights in its July report1, we can now anticipate long term consequences, which will add 83 to 132 million to the already alarming number of 690 million hungry people2. Impacts observed by Action Against Hunger missions (with examples of DRC and Pakistan in this brief) echo global observations made by the High Level Panel of Experts on food security3 and call for the same set of recommendations. States must engage now for a deep transformation of food systems to ensure the right to food for all as well as resilience towards the spread of this crisis, and the ones to come, in light of climate and biodiversity challenges. This engagement should be made within the framework of the CFS, the most inclusive and legitimate governance fora for food security matters.
Perishable foods chains, such as fruits and vegetables, meat, milk or dairy products have been particularly impacted : they often require many people to work in close proximity to cultivate, harvest and process. Those fresh products are highly nutritious and essential to healthy diets.
Informal markets had to close due to containment measures, reflecting a “formality bias” in policies, which favoured supermarkets because they were perceived as safer. Yet informal markets play a central role in ensuring access to diversified and nutritious foods. This further undermined access to local healthy diets.
We thus observed a change in consumption habits, moving towards cheaper, more processed food with less nutritional value, which impacts malnutrition rates in the long run.
The crisis is affecting rights as well as access to basic services (water and sanitation, health care, jobs) of vulnerable people, starting with women, who are over-represented in the informal and food-processing sector, migrants and discriminated minorities. All basic services mentioned have implications for food security and nutrition.
Although governments recognize food and agriculture as essential sectors, pandemic containment measures were biased against the centrality of peasant production, artisanal fisheries, small-scale herding, and local food systems. The particular conditions and needs of indigenous peoples, women food producers and workers, and young people were not reflected in policy measures6.
The COVID outbreak comes on top of a climate and biodiversity crisis, for which industrial food systems hold high responsibility. Yet members of the Civil Society Mechanism of the CFS observed a resurgence in land grabbing following the pandemic, as eyes were elsewhere. These land grabs are linked to the expansion of industrial agriculture, itself associated with a rising prevalence of zoonoses—diseases that transmit from animals to humans7—of which COVID-19 is a prime example.