IFPRI: COVID-19 and the promise of food system innovation
“One of the silver linings of any crisis is the innovation it produces. And when it comes to food, COVID-19 is no exception.” In a blog post published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, 18 June), Corinna Hawkes of the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London asks which creative initiatives in response to COVID-19 will survive and can be scaled up to help in a broader transformation toward nutritious and healthy food systems.
Digital innovations have been noteworthy in enabling producers to conduct their businesses in new ways. Examples are given from China and India – and from Malawi, where farmers are adding value to products otherwise lost –tomatoes into pastes, for example – and using online advertising platforms to get the word out. Examples of innovations in distribution include Fiji’s Agriculture Marketing Authority, which stepped in to buy fresh foods direct from suppliers unable to travel to market, selling them on at no added cost to market vendors. Much more dominant are new social protection measures: the World Bank reports that as of 12 June, 173 countries had enacted 621 new social protection measures, including cash transfers and in-kind food and voucher schemes. Some have also taken measures to stabilise prices: Sri Lanka, for instance, is reported to have fixed the wholesale price of vegetables.
Recent experience demonstrates that food systems solutions to ensure the right kind of food gets to those most vulnerable are possible – when there is a will, change is possible. But concerted, creative and cross-sectoral intervention is needed to get food systems working for better diets. As well as governments, innovation also needs to involve communities, businesses and partnerships. Innovation is a huge opportunity to build evidence for the way forward: “COVID-19 has provided a real life innovation lab, a testing ground for big ideas”.