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The State of Food and Agriculture 2021

  • Category
    Economy
  • Published
    1st Dec, 2021

Context

The recently released Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) 2021 State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report – Making agrifood systems more resilient to shocks and stresses  contains some shocking revelation. 

To deal with the situation it proposes urgent reform to the ‘agri-food systems’ of the world.

Background

  • The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerability of agri-food systems to shocks and stresses and led to increased global food insecurity and malnutrition.
  • Action is needed to make agri-food systems more resilient, efficient, sustainable and inclusive.
  • The State of Food and Agriculture 2021 presents country-level indicators of the resilience of agri-food systems.
  • The indicators measure the robustness of primary production and food availability, as well as physical and economic access to food.
  • They can thus help assess the capacity of national agri-food systems to absorb shocks and stresses, a key aspect of resilience.

Analysis

Key-findings of the Report

  • Unaffordable diet: Approximately three billion people, almost 40 per cent of the world’s population, cannot afford a healthy diet.
  • Reduced income, reduced diet: And another one billion people could join their ranks should further unpredictable events reduce incomes by one-third.
  • Increased food cost due to critical transport link: Food costs could increase for up to 845 million people if a disruption to critical transport links were to occur.
  • All included: While low-income countries generally face much greater challenges, middle-income countries are also at risk. 
    • In Brazil, for example, 60 per cent of the country’s export value comes from just one trading partner, narrowing its options should a shock hit that partner country. 
    • Even high-income countries, such as Australia and Canada,are at risk because of the long distances involved in the distribution of food. 
  • The report states that, without proper preparation, unpredictable shocks will continue to undermine these systems. 
  • It defines shocks as short-term events that have negative effects on a system, people’s well-being, assets, livelihoods, safety and ability to withstand future shocks.

Why sustainable Agri-food system is essential?

  • sustainable agri-food systemis one in which a variety of sufficient, nutritious and safe foods is available at an affordable price to everyone, and nobody is hungry or suffers from any form of malnutrition.
  • Agri-food systems include primary production, food supply chains, domestic transport networks and households — and involve many interlinked actors.
  • The agri-food systems produce about 11 billion tonnes of food yearly and employ 4 billions people directly and indirectly.
  • The agri-food sector, including forestry and fisheries, also accounts for a third of the anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. It occupies 37 per cent of the Earth’s land area.
  • Agri-food system, therefore, play an essential role in realising other SDGs related to poverty, resource and energy efficiency, cleaner economies, and healthy aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

What are the challenges to agri-food systems?

  • Complex system with multiple actors: Agri-food systems are complex in nature (including primary production, food supply chains, domestic transport networks and households) and involve many interlinked actors. Thus, a shock in any component can spread rapidly throughout systems.
  • Extra fragile system: The fragility of agri-food systems can affect large numbers of people.

What needs to be done?

  • Resilient agri-food system: To preserve their functionality and ensure the food security, nutrition and livelihoods of millions of people, agri-food systems must become more resilient to increasing shocks and stresses of diverse origins, both biophysical and socio-economic.
  • Absorptive capacity for unforeseen shocks: Of the five distinct resilience capacities agri-food systems must have – to prevent, anticipate, absorb, adapt and transform – absorptive capacity is critical in confronting unforeseen shocks and is complementary to risk management of shocks that can be anticipated.
  • Diversity: Key to building the absorptive capacity of agri-food systems is
    • diversity in food sources (domestic production, imports or existing stocks)
    • diversity of actors in food supply chains
    • redundant and robust transport networks
    • affordability of a healthy diet for all households, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable
  • Risk management: Risk management strategies for shocks such as droughts, floods and pests – including multi-risk assessments, timely forecasts, early warning systems and early action plans – are key to help all agri-food systems’ actors prevent and anticipate major disruptions to systems and avoid human suffering and costly recovery interventions.
  • Effective Government support: Enhancing the resilience of food supply chains requires government support to develop small and medium agri-food enterprises, cooperatives, consortia and clusters, as well as social protection programmes.
  • Economic access to food: Ensuring economic access to sufficient food for a healthy diet at all times is a key dimension of agri-food systems’ resilience.
  • Policies and investments: Policies and investments that reduce poverty, generate decent employment and expand access to education and basic services, as well as social protection programmes when needed, are essential. 

Conclusion

In the light of the current challenges in the food system, building resilient agri-food systems should be a key policy objective and must ensure that all agri-food systems’ components function well over time. This requires mainstreaming resilience in agri-food policies and greater coordination across all relevant sectors and layers of government institutions to ensure policy coherence.

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