5 November 2020, Rome – The need for concerted action to prevent the COVID-19 international health emergency from triggering a catastrophic world food crisis received a welcome new tool today as the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations formally launched the Food Coalition.
A “network of networks”, the Food Coalition is a voluntary multi-stakeholder & multi-sectoral alliance set up to support innovative initiatives to ensure global food access, increase the resilience of agri-food systems & put them on a more sustainable course.
First suggested by the Government of Italy & with more than 30 countries having already expressed interest in joining, it will support existing & future efforts to overcome the pandemic’s disruptive impacts & help countries get back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, particularly those of ending hunger & poverty.
FAO Director-General QU Dongyu opened the high-level virtual launch event with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy & Deputy Prime Minister Carola Schouten of the Netherlands, the two countries that have already pledged & delivered financial resources & technical support to the Food Coalition.
“We must increase the exchange of knowledge & leverage global momentum to promote food security & nutrition,” the FAO Director-General said, hailing the Food Coalition as a lever to attract & harness innovative thinking & solutions.
“The aim is to build a global alliance with a network of national governments, international organizations, thought leaders, civil societies & the private sector working together for a unified global action,” he added. We drink water from the same river & we enjoy the sunshine under only one sky.”
Tawakkol Karman, winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize also spoke at the event, along with Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Prize. Both are members of FAO’s Nobel Peace Laureates Alliance for Food Security & Peace.
“No leader should allow a world overflowing with food to let people be hungry,” said Prime Minister Conte. “In front of the pandemic we need to redouble our efforts & reinforce our traditional commitment to help the most vulnerable,” he said, adding that Italy will promote the cause when it presides over the G20 next year.
The Food Coalition is an opportunity to show solidarity & make innovative solutions accessible & affordable to all, said Schouten, noting her government applauds Italy for the initiative & has supported it from inception. “Knowledge is one of the few things that multiplies when you share it.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has made FAO the leading organization of efforts to end hunger, much as it was established to do after the scourge of world war, said Karman. “Humanity today has sufficient capacity to put an end to this humanitarian crisis,” she said.
Interest in the Food Coalition is notable among members of the G-20, indicating a potential resource & advocacy base, in terms of expertise, policy commitment & funding mobilization.
Ministers from, Costa Rica, Israel, Italy & Nigeria, participated in the panel discussions during the launch, as well as ambassadors from China, Russian Federation & the United States of America.
How it works
COVID-19 may add up to 132 million more people to the ranks of the world’s undernourished this year, on top of the 690 million hungry people in 2019 – highlighting the challenge that the pandemic poses to the eradication of hunger by 2030.
Moreover, the current health crisis will have long-term effects on food security, affecting production, farmers’ health & access to markets, rural jobs & livelihoods, triggering decreasing food supply & demand in rural & urban areas alike with adverse nutritional results, said the FAO Director-General.
“Across the world, countries have to make sure that food value chains continue to function well … & that the agricultural labour force & poor consumers, both rural & urban, are not pushed beyond the poverty line,” he said.
Against this background, the Food Coalition aims to work for a unified global action in response to COVID-19 & the risks to agri-food systems it poses. The alliance involves a devoted trust fund & a web-based hub allowing participants to access a basket of project-focused information & data, as well as the funding & types of assistance needed for many on-the-ground projects.
FAO has elaborated Action Sheets to provide specific details & these will continually be updated. Areas of focus range from integrated social protection policies in Latin America, supporting agricultural migrant workers in Central Asia & Eastern Europe & boosting capacities to contrast Antimicrobial Resistance in Africa to accelerating the use of geospatial data by FAO’s new data hub.
“COVID-19 has taught us that we need to increase the resilience of agri-food systems, both to be ready to minimize risks & to be able to cope with risks when they occur,” said FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero. “The Food Coalition helps us on this.” In July, FAO released a COVID-19 Response & Recovery Programme that is designed around seven priority areas of work to help countries deal with immediate crises triggered by the pandemic & also to prepare for recovery & building back better agri-food systems. The Food Coalition will leverage high-level political, financial & technical support to enable timely & robust actions that meet country-level needs & demands identified through the Programme.
“FAO has a unique structure & capacity to bring this global alliance together,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol. She noted FAO can foster constructive dialogue among its 194 members, has strong linkages to many other important partners & has an expansive country network that can assure strong targeting & the proper prioritization of countries’ own views.
Yunus, the Nobel Laureate, emphasized that “rural economies must be rebuild as independent economies.”