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Urgent Need To Strengthen Food Systems As COVID-19 Drives Up Numbers Of Hungry People Worldwide

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today joins its sister agencies in calling for global action to improve the systems that produce and distribute the food we eat, so that they can better withstand shocks including the COVID-19 pandemic that can spark alarming surges in the level of hunger in the world.

In many countries, the socio-economic effects of the pandemic – particularly loss of earnings and remittances – are heightening existing threats linked to conflict and climate change. The number of acutely hungry people in the world could increase by more than 100 million this year, according to WFP estimates. For particularly fragile countries, a slide towards famine is a real risk.

“‘The world produces enough food for everyone so it’s a problem not of scarcity but of access to nutritious and affordable food,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley, “Smallholder farmers in developing nations need support so they can grow crops in a more sustainable way, then store and transport their produce to markets, and ultimately improve their own livelihoods. When food moves from the farm, along the supply chain and onto people’s plates in a fair and efficient way, then everyone benefits.”

WFP, which last week won the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to fight hunger, has unparalleled experience in buying and distributing food. Every year, WFP increases the amount of food it procures locally from smallholder farmers, providing training in post-harvest storage and in how to access markets. The aim is to build dynamic food systems which contribute to community-based agricultural growth and the strengthening of national economies.

The need for concerted action to improve agricultural production while enhancing global supply chains and ending food waste is reflected in this year’s World Food Day theme: “Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together”. The three Rome-based agencies - WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) – are calling for sustainable investment in food systems to achieve healthy diets for all. Without massive improvements in the food supply chain, many fragile nations are set to become increasingly vulnerable to financial volatility and climate shocks.

No one government or organisation can achieve these goals alone. More than ever, there is a need for global solidarity to help all people, and especially the most vulnerable, to confront the crises facing the planet – multiple conflicts, climate change and COVID-19.

The challenges that COVID-19 brings to the Pacific continues to impact food security in the region. The necessary and decisive action taken by governments to close international borders and impose travel restrictions to prevent imported cases of COVID-19, has adversely impacted the tourism sector, leading to a sharp increase in unemployment and reduction in household income. Some countries that are heavily dependent on food imports are under high stress. And while most Pacific island nations produce reasonable volumes of fruit and vegetables for domestic consumption, imported staple foods such as rice and wheat are vulnerable to adverse developments on international food markets and disruptions to international supply chains.

“WFP is working with Governments across the Pacific to monitor changes in food security at the household level as this pandemic continues” said Jo Pilgrim, Director of WFP’s Pacific Multi-Country Office. “WFP’s Pacific Humanitarian Air Service is also supporting governments and partners across the region, playing its part to restore certainty to supply chains affected by the closure of airports and grounding of commercial aircraft.”

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