Global institutions news – Post date: May 15th, 2020.


In a virtual meeting (11 May), FAO Director-General QU Dongyu and Georges Rebelo Pinto Chikoti, Secretary-General of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) discussed ongoing collaboration and paved the way for the renewal of the existing agreement between the two organisations.

Mr Chikoti requested FAO’s support in OACPS Member States, noting the organisation’s appreciation for longstanding support in key areas such as roots and tubers, fisheries and farmers’ organisations. Noting the impact of COVID-19 on food supply and security, the Director-General emphasised the need for innovative approaches, and in particular urged wider use of digital technologies and new business models to produce more food in social and environmentally friendly ways. He highlighted the importance of fostering shorter food supply chains, especially for fresh products, to promote food and dietary diversity, which could also catalyse further potential through e-commerce.

The Secretary-General briefed the Director-General on the revised Georgetown Agreement and its entry into force, as well as the nearly concluded negotiations to renew the post-Cotonou Agreement underpinning the OACPS partnership with the European Union.

IFPRI: COVID-19 border policies create problems for African trade

A blog post from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) describes how African countries imposing emergency border restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 are delaying the continental free trade agreement, contributing to fears of a new food crisis, and disrupting cross-border trade. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was supposed to establish a continent-wide free movement of goods starting on 1 July, but the African Union Commission has proposed postponing the launch until 1 January 2021. In addition, trade restrictions implemented in Africa and elsewhere in response to the pandemic are fuelling fears of a new food crisis on the continent.

Most African countries have closed land borders to travellers while still allowing freight to pass under tighter controls, which sometimes allows the movement of only agricultural and food products. Over one 10-day period in March, 25 African countries imposed such measures on land borders. Almost all these countries have also suspended the arrival of international flights, at least from countries particularly affected by the virus. Many governments have also imposed curfews. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Liberia, and Namibia have taken a different path: the entry of people at border posts is subject to temperature control and testing, followed by hospitalisation and/or quarantine if necessary.

These measures have been adopted to protect public health, but their economic consequences could be significant. For example, prohibiting people from crossing the border restricts informal trade, widely practised in Africa and often the main source of income for a family. This type of trade accounts for a significant share of recorded trade, for example, between 15 and 30% of official exports in Uganda.

The blog post describes the situation in detail, and considers potential solutions to reduce the costs for farmers and transporters of agricultural and food products. Read the full post here.

Task Force on impacts of COVID-19 on Africa’s food security

A joint Task Force has been launched, with members including the European Union, African Development Bank, World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Programme, and African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD). The main role of the Task Force is to help coordinate the actions set out in the joint political declaration made in April by Africa’s Ministers for Agriculture, with support from FAO and the African Union, on protecting food security and nutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the declaration, the Ministers committed to minimising food system disruptions while ensuring measures are in place to contain the spread of the virus, along with other measures to safeguard food security and nutrition.

The Task Force will also provide coordinated support to any new food security “hot spots” resulting from COVID-19, with particular focus on countries facing multiple threats such as the desert locust infestation in Eastern Africa.

The informal economy is complicating government responses to COVID-19

Business Fights Poverty (5 May) reports that 93% of the world’s informal employment is in emerging countries, and in Africa alone, over 85% of employment is informal (International Labour Organization). Developing nations across Africa are attempting to provide economic support packages targeting their SMEs, but this informality makes it difficult. Many small businesses – from micro-enterprises which operate as traders, to small restaurant businesses, for example – have no incorporation and no listed employees with bank accounts.

This challenge threatens to reduce the effectiveness of the measures currently being put into place. For instance, in March,Ghana announced a 1 billion cedi stimulus package(US$173 million) for households and businesses, particularly SMEs. But it includes measures like extending the tax filing date and reducing the central bank interest rate, which pose difficulties for the informal enterprises that comprise the vast majority of the economy.

Migrants’ contributions to the COVID-19 response

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in the UK is collecting examples from across the world on migrants’ contributions to the COVID-19 response, in healthcare and beyond. A visual tracker makes it possible to see examples of migrants’ positive contributions by continent and by sector.

“Refugees and other migrants are part of the global workforce of essential workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic: every day they save lives and contribute to our economies and societies. Yet their contributions can be hidden, their skills undervalued and their rights denied. These examples of reforms, new initiatives and campaigns to recognise and better support migrant essential workers in the COVID-19 response demonstrate that change is possible.”

After COVID-19: How can we improve the global food system?

The World Resources Institute has published a blog post on how policymakers aiming to restore livelihoods and restart the economy can also reset the way food and agricultural systems operate.

“COVID-19 has provided a once-in-a-generation demonstration of the pathologies and the fragility of the world’s food and land use system. Let this also be the time when we begin to put this system onto a much healthier and more sustainable course.” The post argues that it is vital that we do not simply build back the same unequal, non-inclusive, risky and high-carbon systems of the past – nor systems that have led to high rates of malnutrition, obesity and biodiversity loss. Getting the food system right will be central to ensuring a resilient recovery across the world, creating the potential for millions of new jobs, less hunger, greater food security and better management of the natural resources on which we all depend.

Desert Locust battle not yet over – but significant gains despite pandemic

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that despite the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges, significant gains have been made against Desert Locust encroachment in East Africa and Yemen, with an estimated 720,000 tonnes of cereal saved from the swarms of migratory pests across 10 countries: enough to feed 5 million people a year. FAO has released its first progress report on the locust control campaign, which began in January and now covers 10 countries: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Yemen.

However, more action is still needed to avert a food security crisis, as the ongoing rainy season will provide favourable conditions for locusts to breed. While swathes of treated land are now relatively locust-free, the agency warns that a second wave of locusts will transition to the young adult phase in June, at a critical time when many farmers prepare to harvest their crops. The upsurge is particularly alarming in the current context. “We can and must protect vulnerable people from the impact of multiple crises: conflicts, climate extremes, desert locusts and COVID-19, which threaten to cause a further dramatic deterioration in their food security,” said FAO Director General Qu Dongyu. “To do this, we need to intensify our efforts further and focus not just on controls but on supporting the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists so they can get through this.”

Read the full report here.

A glimpse of new and more resilient food systems?

The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) has issued a communiqué on COVID-19 and the crisis in food systems. It asks: What are the symptoms and causes of this food crisis? Why are we in the midst of this perfect storm? What can be done immediately to avert more damage to society and the economy? And what are the structural changes we now need to protect people and planet? In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 has laid bare the underlying risks, fragilities and inequities in global food systems, and pushed them close to breaking point.
The crisis has also offered a glimpse of new and more resilient food systems, as communities have come together to plug gaps in food systems, and public authorities have taken extraordinary steps to secure the production and provisioning of food. But crises have also been used by powerful actors to accelerate unsustainable, business-as-usual approaches. The report concludes that “We must learn from the lessons of the past and resist these attempts, while ensuring that the measures taken to curb the crisis are the starting point for a food system transformation that builds resilience at all levels.”

Eating more fruit and vegetables could lead to better mental well-being

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has established a new COVID Action Platform in partnership with the World Health Organization. It states that multistakeholder cooperation is at the centre of the organisation’s mission as the international organization for public–private cooperation. The platform focuses on three priorities: galvanize the global business community for collective action; protect people’s livelihoods and facilitate business continuity; and mobilize cooperation and business support for the COVID-19 response.

WEF has published an article suggesting that ‘Eating more fruit and vegetables could lead to better mental well-being’, together with an accompanying video. The analysis of data spanning a five-year period shows that increases in the consumption of fruit and vegetables are linked to increases in self-reported mental well-being and life satisfaction, even after accounting for other determinants of mental well-being such as physical health, income and consumption of other foods. The results suggest that adding one portion to our diet per day could be as beneficial to mental well-being as going for a walk on an extra seven to eight days a month. One portion is equal to one cup of raw vegetables (the size of a fist), half a cup of cooked vegetables or chopped fruit, or one piece of whole fruit. This result is encouraging as it means that one possible way to improve our mental health could be as simple as eating an extra piece of fruit every day, or having a salad with a meal.

Zimbabwe rated as one of the world’s top global food crises in new UN report

United Nations Zimbabwe highlights that the new Global Food Crisis Report Forecast, released jointly by the European Union, FAO, OCHA, UNICEF, USAID and WFP, anticipates a worsening food insecurity situation in 2020, with an estimated 4.3 million rural Zimbabweans, including children, in need of urgent action. Measures to curb the further spread of COVID-19 have the potential to impact negatively on the food system in Zimbabwe, such as through restricted access to markets by both farmers and consumers, and a glut of perishable nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables. Deliberate measures are needed to prevent and mitigate against these.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all countries across the globe, including the OECD countries and other high-income countries. This is making it increasingly difficult to prioritise the needs of populations typically affected by food crises.

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