Preventing a food security crisis amidst the coronavirus pandemic
The novel coronavirus is still spreading and it is difficult to say when it would be contained. So to ensure food security for all, we need to take urgent actions at the global and country levels. Fan Shenggen. chair professor at Beijing-based China Agricultural University and former director-general of Washington-headquartered International Food Policy Research Institute, suggests following actions:
- There is a need to closely monitor food prices and markets. Transparent dissemination of information will strengthen government management over the food market, prevent people from panicking, and guide farmers to make rational production decisions. And to nip market speculation over supply in the bud, the government should strengthen market regulation.
- It is necessary to ensure international and national agricultural and food supply chains function normally. E-commerce companies have come up with an in-app feature for contactless delivery, allowing the couriers to leave a parcel at a convenient spot for the customers to pick up, which rules out person-to-person interaction.
- Social safety nets are needed to protect those who are the worst affected and most vulnerable. These safety nets, which could be in the form of cash or in-kind transfers (context-specificity is important here), should be accompanied by intervention by health and nutrition officials, because investing in the health and nutrition of vulnerable populations could lower the mortality rate of diseases such as COVID-19 — as nutritional level and mortality rates are intricately linked. Social safety nets are also crucial in the post-epidemic period to drive "reconstruction" efforts.
- More investment is needed to build an even more resilient food system. Such investment must come from national governments as well as the international community, as enhancing the capacity of developing countries to prevent or contain a food security crisis is a collective effort. In today’s highly interconnected world, contagious diseases such as SARS, Ebola, avian flu and COVID-19 could easily travel across borders.
- There is also a need to build safeguards for the prevention and control of zoonotic diseases. The international community needs to do more to prevent future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases such as Ebola, SARS and avian flu, including regulating meat, seafood and wildlife markets. Many zoonotic diseases originate in wildlife — HIV, Ebola, MERS, SARS, and possibly COVID-19 too, all originated in wildlife and jumped to humans.
- Moreover, it is important to ensure the smooth flow of global trade and make full use of the international market as a vital tool to secure food supply. And global institutions such as the World Trade Organization, FAO, World Bank and the International Monetary Fund must ask countries to not use COVID-19 as an excuse to issue trade protectionist policies.