Zappia to ‘Friends of FAO’: no justification for food trade restrictions during COVID-19 crisis

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NEW YORK, APRIL 30 – “There is no scientific evidence in support of COVID-19 transmission associated with food, so there is no justification for restrictions. Keeping trade routes open and functioning supply chains is crucial”, the Italian Permanent Representative to the U.N. Mariangela Zappia said today in an interview with Friends of FAO, a new feature of monthly newsletter of the FAO Liaison office in New York.

The President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, and Italian Ambassador are the first two contributors from across the U.N. community to the new feature which will present a series of interviews dedicated to showcasing key synergies forged between the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization and high-level partners from across the United Nations community.

The President of the General Assembly has been a long-standing champion of multilateral efforts to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. Ambassador Zappia currently chairs the Group of Friends of Food Security and Nutrition in New York, and is a strong advocate for multilateral cooperation to attain the 2030 Agenda goals.

The interview with Ambassador Zappia, in which she discussed food availability during the COVID-19 crisis and the impact of the pandemic on the Sustainable Development Goals, is posted below.

You recently moderated an Extraordinary High-Level Meeting of the Group of Friends of Food Security and Nutrition on the impact of COVID-19 on food availability and supply. Why was it important to convene this meeting now?

Indeed, it was a very timely and constructive meeting. As we focus on the health emergency caused by the spread of the Coronavirus, we must take immediate action to prevent the spillovers of this crisis on food availability and supply. The COVID19 response could generate major demand and supply shocks on agri-food systems and disruptions of supply chains, which could threaten the livelihoods of millions of people and further worsen their health conditions, especially in the most fragile countries already affected by severe malnutrition and food insecurity. We need to enhance the resilience of global food systems to prevent the most devastating effects of this vicious cycle. A coordinated international action is urgently needed. Italy, as Chair of the Group of Friends on Food Security and Nutrition, together with Brazil, Canada and Egypt, has taken the initiative to ring the alarm. We had a thorough discussion, chaired by the Italian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Emanuela Del Re, with PGA Bande, DSG Mohammed, Special Envoy Kalibata and the representatives of the Rome-based Agencies, which have a central role in coordinating the UN response and supply chain in this area. We were struck by the very wide and active participation of Member States. It has confirmed that there is real concern for the consequences of the current crisis on food security and unity of purpose to prevent and mitigate them. Now we need to act.

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, more and more governments are scaling up the implementation of restrictive measures. What suggestions do you have so that such actions don’t end up disrupting the global food chain?

Many inputs and ideas came out of the meeting and were included in the Joint Statement released by the co-hosts. First, we must prevent hurdles to the movement of food: there is no scientific evidence in support of COVID19 transmission associated with food, so there is no justification for restrictions. Keeping trade routes open and functioning supply chains is crucial. Second, we must support small farmers and producers, especially taking into account the specific needs of women, ensure they have access to land, credit and markets. Third, the pandemic and its impact on food security will disproportionally affect Developing Countries already struggling with instability, preexisting health and food crisis, impact of climate change. The situation in many parts of Africa, in Land-Locked and Small Islands Developing States is already really worrying. The international community, the UN system, the G20, the IFIs should really come together and put an extra effort in their support. Fourth, the pandemic has clearly shown us that peace and security, human rights and development are intertwined. It is now more than ever essential to work in a coordinated and integrated fashion, keeping in mind the nexus between humanitarian assistance and sustainable development. In this spirit, Italy has already activated different streams of action and has proposed the establishment of a Food Coalition through FAO.

Do you think that COVID-19 has put a pause on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals? What role do you envision for the Group of Friends of Food Security and Nutrition in the coming months, and especially in connection with the implementation of the 2030 Agenda?

Although the scale of the impact of this global crisis is yet unknown, it will for sure invest all aspects of our societies. The way we shape our response today will influence how the world will look like tomorrow. The current situation is unprecedented, but we already have a roadmap to cope with it: the 2030 Agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals remain the compass for finding the right solutions: only in this way, the recovery will represent an opportunity to build back better. The consequences of the pandemic on food availability and supply tell us that reaching Zero Hunger can’t be on pause. Italy’s engagement on SDG2, as a longstanding partner and host of the UN agro-food hub, is unwavering, as the priorities and activities of the Italian Development Cooperation also demonstrate. We will continue to nourish the discussion and mobilize the international community on these issues in all multilateral platforms and fora, including here in New York through the Group of Friends. In the lead up to the 2021 Food Systems Summit, we will work closely with FAO, WFP and IFAD, bring together all relevant stakeholders, exchange expertise and information, build partnerships: we have a crucial path ahead to boost a recovery aiming at increased resilience and sustainability. As the Secretary-General has pointed out, we must aim to Recovery Better: Italy fully supports this call, as affirmed by Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio in a recent conversation with the SG. (@OnuItalia)