Investing in early warning, agrifood chains needed for resilient food systems: Report

Global food policy report calls for beyond short term fixes to build food systems that are more resilient

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Monday 17 April 2023
Photo: iStock

There is a need to invest beyond short-term fixes to build food systems that are more resilient and equitable, said the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in a new report released April 13, 2023.

The international agricultural research centre said this citing rise in food insecurity during 2020-2022 due to multiple crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, natural disasters along with civil unrest and political instability. 

The report called for a more proactive response to food system shocks with focus on three key areas: Crisis prediction and preparation; building resilience before and during crises; and making crisis response supportive and inclusive of women, forced migrants and other vulnerable groups. 

Investing in early warning systems is essential to save lives, livelihoods and money. This could enable anticipatory action before a shock turns into a crisis, the Global Food Policy Report, 2023 noted. 

With climate change, as many as 72 million more people will be undernourished by 2050, as compared to a scenario without climate change. Climate crisis also affects conflict and displacement

“Hence, we should better predict and prepare, implement effective and accountable governance and institutions, and invest to build resilience against future crises,” said Johan Swinnen, director-general of IFPRI and managing director of the CGIAR Systems Transformation Science Group.

Half of the world’s population or around 3.83 billion people worldwide live in households reliant on agrifood systems-based livelihoods, at least in part, said FAO earlier this month.

IFPRI, in the report, also advocated for strengthening agrifood value chains to support livelihoods and food security during crises. It advised governments to maintain a business environment that fosters flexibility, technical and financial innovation.

Each of the regions covered in the report, sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, East and Southeast Asia, Latin America and Caribbean, Middle East & North Africa and South Asia, face different crisis risks and need to focus on responses targeted to local needs.

About 20 per cent of Africa’s population is food insecure and undernourished, more than double the population share in any other region of the world. Here humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach offers a promising means to address the multifaceted nature of food crises more cost effectively in the short to medium term, the authors of the report noted. 

In 2021, some 768 million people across the world were undernourished, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s State of Food Security and Nutrition Report. This was well above the 572 million reported in 2014. 

In 2022, the food insecurity was exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war and related spikes in food and fertiliser prices. 

In fact, the fertiliser prices rose by 199 per cent between May 2020 and the end of 2022, stated the World Economic Forum recently.  

As a result, there has been an increase in the number of people at risk due to food insecurity, hunger, and malnutrition. 

In 2022, as many as 205 million people in 45 countries experienced crisis-level acute food insecurity or worse, nearly double the number in 2016, the IFPRI report highlighted.

The crisis continues in 2023 too, and the hunger levels are higher than ever before, according to the World Food Programme

Integrating social protection with gender and climate goals can promote gender equality and sustainability. Empowering women is crucial, said IFPRI and called for including women’s voices in decision-making at all levels. This can support development, monitoring and achievement of clear gender equality goals amid crisis.

This is even more significant as they are most vulnerable and shoulder a disproportionate share of negative impacts during environmental and social crises. 

An annual investment in the range of $300-400 billion is required to make food systems more resilient and sustainable, according to the finance lever of the UN Food Systems Summit

So, the available funds can be increased by repurposing the more than $600 billion in agricultural support provided by governments on an annual basis, suggested the IFPRI report. “The private sector funds too must be leveraged by Policymakers for crisis prevention and resilience.”

For the longer term, however, repurposing current public support to food and agriculture will be critical to reduce the cost and increase the availability of nutritious foods in the region.

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