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COVID-19 Research On Aquatic Food Systems In Africa And Asia Provides Insights For ‘building Forward Better'

27 April 2021, Penang, MALAYSIA – New research analyzing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and policy responses on the availability and price of aquatic foods across Asian and African value chains throughout 2020 provides recommendations aimed at mitigating impacts in the present, assisting recovery, and building a more resilient food system in the future.

Published in Marine Policy, the study showed that across Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Egypt and Nigeria, COVID-19 and responsive policy measures severely disrupted aquatic food value chains, particularly via impacts on transport and logistics. Short-term impacts affected the supply of aquatic food and production inputs, but impacts on demand were longer lasting. A drop in retail price and rising production costs resulted in substantially lower incomes and employment for businesses and workers throughout the value chain in 2020, as compared to 2019. These impacts have exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, and formal assistance has been limited.

Capture fisheries and aquaculture are a vital source of employment, income, and nutritious food for millions of people in Africa and Asia. The research suggests that adaptation efforts and coping strategies of households and businesses are necessary for their short-term survival, but may also undermine well-being and longer-term resilience. To protect livelihoods and ensure the continued supply of aquatic foods during shocks, the authors recommend governments designate workers throughout aquatic food value chains as essential workers; accord value chain actors the same priority as producers when allocating resources; and focus on small and medium enterprises, farms, and fishers, as these are more labor-intensive, and account for the majority of aquatic food produced and traded.

The study’s lead author Dr. Ben Belton, WorldFish Global Lead for Social and Economic Inclusion and Associate Professor at Michigan State University, said: “The key challenge is to take COVID-19 as an opportunity to ‘build forward better.’ The crisis has helped to expose weaknesses and bottlenecks in global and national food systems and illustrated vividly which policy responses worked and which had unintended negative consequences. As such, there are many valuable lessons to learn for the future. We need to take the opportunity to analyse what happened and why.”

“Researchers, policymakers and business can use the current responses to build resilience to future shocks. The research suggests renewed commitments to small- and medium- scale actors in aquatic food systems along the value chain can aid economic recovery and tackle hunger in low-income nations. Keeping value chains functioning smoothly is essential to prevent shocks to food systems.”

Another author Dr. Shakuntala Thilsted, WorldFish Global Lead for Nutrition and Public Health and Vice-Chair of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 Action Track 4: Advance Equitable Livelihoods, said: “Public health interventions and lockdown measures continue to play an important role in saving lives, but the resulting economic crisis disproportionately affects certain groups. Low-income people and those in precarious occupations have proven most vulnerable to financial losses, food and nutrition insecurity, and health risks.”

“There is a clear need for expanded social protection for the most vulnerable. Developing robust social safety nets will prevent large-scale slides into extreme poverty and food and nutrition insecurity when shocks occur, helping to maintain the consumption of nourishing aquatic foods during crises.”

Read the full study: COVID-19 impacts and adaptations in Asia and Africa’s aquatic food value chains - https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2021.104523

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