ROME, NOVEMBER 5 – The need for concerted action to prevent the COVID-19 international health emergency from triggering a catastrophic world food crisis received a new tool today as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Italy formally launched the Food Coalition.
A “network of networks”, the Food Coalition is a voluntary multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral alliance set up to support innovative initiatives to ensure global food access, increase the resilience of agri-food systems and put them on a more sustainable course.
First suggested by the Government of Italy and with more than 30 countries having already expressed interest in joining, it will support existing and future efforts to overcome the pandemic’s disruptive impacts and help countries get back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, particularly those of ending hunger and poverty.
FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu opened the high-level virtual launch event with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy and Deputy Prime Minister Carola Schouten of the Netherlands, the two countries that have already pledged and delivered financial resources and technical support to the Food Coalition.
“We must increase the exchange of knowledge and leverage global momentum to promote food security and nutrition,” the FAO Director-General said, hailing the Food Coalition as a lever to attract and harness innovative thinking and solutions. According to Italian Premier Conte, the new alliance is “a good example of how our multilateral community can express its resilience through pragmatism, vision and innovation”. In supporting this initiative, said Conte, we embrace together the challenge of building back better: “No leader should allow a world overflowing with food to let people be hungry,” he added: “In front of the pandemic we need to redouble our efforts and reinforce our traditional commitment to help the most vulnerable,” he said, adding that Italy will promote the cause when it presides over the G20 next year”.
Tawakkol Karman, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize also spoke at the event, along with Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Prize. Both are members of FAO’s Nobel Peace Laureates Alliance for Food Security and Peace. Yunus emphasized that “rural economies must be rebuild as independent economies,” while Schouten noted that the Food Coalition is an opportunity to show solidarity and make innovative solutions accessible and affordable to all: “Knowledge is one of the few things that multiplies when you share it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has made FAO the leading organization of efforts to end hunger, much as it was established to do after the scourge of world war, said Karman. “Humanity today has sufficient capacity to put an end to this humanitarian crisis,” she said.
Interest in the Food Coalition is notable among members of the G-20, indicating a potential resource and advocacy base, in terms of expertise, policy commitment and funding mobilization. Ministers from, Costa Rica, Israel, Italy and Nigeria, participated in the panel discussions during the launch, as well as ambassadors from China, Russian Federation and the United States of America.
COVID-19 may add up to 132 million more people to the ranks of the world’s undernourished this year, on top of the 690 million hungry people in 2019 – highlighting the challenge that the pandemic poses to the eradication of hunger by 2030.
Moreover, the current health crisis will have long-term effects on food security, affecting production, farmers’ health and access to markets, rural jobs and livelihoods, triggering decreasing food supply and demand in rural and urban areas alike with adverse nutritional results, said the FAO Director-General.
“Across the world, countries have to make sure that food value chains continue to function well … and that the agricultural labour force and poor consumers, both rural and urban, are not pushed beyond the poverty line,” he said.
Against this background, the Food Coalition aims to work for a unified global action in response to COVID-19 and the risks to agri-food systems it poses. The alliance involves a devoted trust fund and a web-based hub allowing participants to access a basket of project-focused information and data, as well as the funding and types of assistance needed for many on-the-ground projects.
FAO has elaborated Action Sheets to provide specific details and these will continually be updated. Areas of focus range from integrated social protection policies in Latin America, supporting agricultural migrant workers in Central Asia and Eastern Europe and boosting capacities to contrast Antimicrobial Resistance in Africa to accelerating the use of geospatial data by FAO’s new data hub.
“COVID-19 has taught us that we need to increase the resilience of agri-food systems, both to be ready to minimize risks and to be able to cope with risks when they occur,” said FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero. “The Food Coalition helps us on this.” In July, FAO released a COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme that is designed around seven priority areas of work to help countries deal with immediate crises triggered by the pandemic and also to prepare for recovery and building back better agri-food systems. The Food Coalition will leverage high-level political, financial and technical support to enable timely and robust actions that meet country-level needs and demands identified through the Programme.
“FAO has a unique structure and capacity to bring this global alliance together,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol. She noted FAO can foster constructive dialogue among its 194 members, has strong linkages to many other important partners and has an expansive country network that can assure strong targeting and the proper prioritization of countries’ own views.