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Climate, History, and COVID-19
This week we’ve ramped up our efforts to keep you informed through the crisis. Next Generation Delegation Alumni are offering their perspectives on how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect global food security. One alumnus analyzes Vietnam’s decision to ban rice exports through a historical lens, warning that without effective crisis diplomacy this could be the beginning of a COVID-19 food price spike. The second considers what the virus could mean for African food systems, already facing severe food security threat—locusts. Our partner blog series, Breaking Ground, features several pieces this week that examine how scalable innovation can build resilience for smallholders, and the impacts of reducing food waste to feed millions. In our agricultural research series, Field Notes, the International Rice Research Institute looks to an urbanized future as it fosters food systems transformation.
Looking ahead, we’ll be hosting a conversation between Senior Fellow Roger Thurow, Vox’s Science and Health Editor Eliza Barclay, and NASA Senior Research Scientist Cynthia Rosenzweig on what the COVID-19 crisis can teach us about climate change, moderated by Devex reporter Teresa Welsh.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Volunteers pack rice to be distributed among poor people during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a residential area in Kolkata, India. (REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)
A United Front: The WTO, WHO, and FAO have issued a joint statement warning countries to avoid restricting food trade flow as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While countries often restrict food trade and exports to ensure food for their own citizens, this has negative global food supply ramifications that can ultimately impact everyone. As the FAO previously noted that while there is enough food for everyone globally, we must ensure those that are most vulnerable have access.
Relief for those Most Affected: The UN Development Program (UNDP) has issued a further warning that COVID-19 will have disproportionate negative effects for developing countries. Income losses could reach up to $220 billion, and up to half of the jobs in Africa could be lost. In response to the unbalanced risks, the WHO, IMF, and World Bank have announced that they support debt relief to ease the burden on developing nations.
Averting Crisis: In 2008, several nations implemented commodity export bans, sparking others to panic buy and hoard crops. The result? A global food price spike that exacerbated food insecurity and instability. With some nations beginning to take similar steps, food crisis diplomacy is more important than ever. Without effective multilateral coordination, the world could face even higher levels of food insecurity in the midst of an already devastating global pandemic.
FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL ISSUES
Fighting the Fever: China is pushing farmers to increase hog production to restore national pork output to pre-African-Swine-Fever levels. At the same time, local governments have been asked to restrict transportation of animals, which increases the risk of the disease spreading. Two new outbreaks have been reported, adding a sense of urgency to the matter.
COVID-19 Changing Food Insecurity: 80-90 percent of food consumed in the Caribbean region comes from other countries. With income from tourism drying up, additional layoffs and temporary business closures have the potential to spark an economic crisis. Uncertainty around the future food supply from the US and limited markets for local products pose additional challenges. However, the current crisis poses an opportunity to diversify local agriculture and cut down on food waste.
Reviving Cotton: The Central Bank of Nigeria hopes to revive the nation’s faltering cotton sector. Assistance is being offered to every step of the cotton value chain, including processing. Starting with input distribution to 100,000 farmers across Nigeria, the Bank has a goal of 1.5 metric tons of cotton per hectare. National Cotton Association of Nigeria is working with the bank to identify 300,000 farmers to participate in the initiative.
How local can we get? International trade, labor, and supply chains are disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing many to turn to local food systems or even grow their own food. Yet global supply chains are incredibly complex, and no nation is entirely self-sufficient. Many grocery staple items that consumers depend on make their way through several countries before arriving in stores. Altering those international supply chains would be an immense undertaking, and is unlikely.
Blockchain for Grain: 12,000 farmers in emerging economies are subscribed and waiting to get started with a new company that uses blockchain to facilitate grain sales. Small farmers don’t always receive the price for their product that they are first quoted. GrainChain connects farmers to buyers to guarantee prices, while providing logistical support to their operations.
Opinion-A Diet for Immunity: Experience from other illnesses has taught us that malnourished individuals are more risk. We also know that certain nutrients can help boost immune systems and potentially help combat the novel coronavirus. During this global pandemic, it is essential to provide support to those experiencing food insecurity and begin broader conversations around a more nutritious food system.
Saving Seeds: A plant virologist who developed virus-resistant super-seeds managed to take them with her when escaping violent conflict in her native Syria. In response to climate-related viruses spreading in Syria and surrounding countries, Dr. Safaa Kumari spent 10 years working on a virus-resistant seed to protect fava beans, a prime protein source for many in the region. Dr. Kumari is working to distribute the seeds for free to local farmers.
An Opportunity to Improve: Before the COVID-19 crisis, many families worried about how to put food on the table. Now consumers at every income level are paying attention to food—but what about governments and businesses? The crisis will affect the global food system, and governments, communities, and businesses have the chance reshape the food system to be more equitable for all.
SEE ALSO: Preventing a Global Food Crisis
Growing Resistance: Prices for vegetables from China—90 percent of available produce—have gone up for shoppers in Hong Kong. Consumers are increasingly turning to local farms for their groceries, continuing a trend that began during the 2019 protests. Although a government rezoning proposal currently threatens to build homes on agricultural land, farmers are determined to continue growing.
Open for Comment: USDA is now looking for public and private sector input and comments into its recently revealed Agriculture Innovation Agenda. The Agenda aims to innovate for increased agricultural productivity and environmental conservation through private and public sector-aligned research. USDA will use public commentary to identify central research themes and efforts to concentrate innovation.
TRADE & COMMODITIES
The Price isn’t Right: Rice and wheat prices have risen sharply across the world, largely due to logistical issues. Between Vietnam and Kazakhstan banning exports of rice and wheat flour, respectively, and labor shortages for transporting commodities, prices of both commodities have increase over 10 percent. At the same time, overall food prices have fallen globally. The drop in the FAO’s food price index results from suppressed demand and a drop in oil prices.
SEE ALSO: Thailand Expects Increase in Rice Exports
Foodtank Live Virtual Interviews
COVID-19 & Global Food Security Implications
Date: April 7
Time: 9 am CT
Virtual Launch - 2020 Global Food Policy Report: Building Inclusive Food Systems
Date: April 7
Time: 11:15 am CT
LIVE STREAM: Confronting COVID-19 in Latin American Cities
Date: April 8
Time: 4 pm CT
LIVE STREAM: Learning from COVID-19 to Fight Climate Change
Date: April 7
Time: 1 pm CT
African Green Revolution Forum
Date: 8-11 September
Location: Kigali, Rwanda
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