LINCOLN, Nebraska — Hunger has always been one of the biggest crises facing the modern world. Even before the COVID-19 Pandemic started, one in 10 people in the world went hungry. Although world hunger trends had undergone some decent progress between 2004 and 2019, declining from 15% to 8.9%, the number of undernourished people increased by 10 million once again between 2018 and 2019. As a result, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has moved to ramp up food distribution efforts. Now, the FAO fights hunger by establishing multilateral programs that provide for families disproportionately affected by the pandemic. These programs would also ensure long-term food supplies.
In May 2020, the U.N.’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock warned that the number of deaths due to starvation or hunger-related illnesses could double due to COVID-19. The U.N. has also projected an 82% increase in the number of people facing crisis-level hunger since 2019.
How The FAO Fights Hunger
The FAO has played an integral role in fighting hunger. It has helped countries transform their agricultural systems by boosting farming sustainability. One recent achievement is how the organization handled the locust infestation that swept through East Africa in the first half of 2020. The insect plague threatened to cause damages amounting to $8.5 billion between January and April 2020.
As a result, the FAO stepped in and helped to save approximately 720,000 tons of cereal across 11 affected countries that would have otherwise been destroyed. By the end of June 2020, the FAO had raised $162 million in its campaign to fight the locust epidemic in “Eastern Africa, Southwest Asia as well as anticipatory action for West Africa and the Sahel.”
COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme
In April, the FAO launched the FAO COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme. The principal aim of the plan is to ensure the long-term sustainability of food systems and livelihoods by attenuating the pandemic’s fallouts among the most food-insecure populations. To accomplish this, the FAO laid out seven keystone components around which its efforts would center:
- Global humanitarian response plan: The FAO implemented this plan based on the U.N.’s humanitarian response plan. The plan’s focus areas were effective data gathering and monitoring, guaranteeing food accessibility to the most food-insecure populations and protecting food supply chains from becoming viral carriers.
- Data for decision-making: This component aims to develop innovative and timely data collection and supplies distribution methods.
- Economic inclusion: This plan prioritized the most vulnerable communities, such as children, rural women, indigenous populations, the elderly, people with disabilities, refugees and internally marginalized people among others. It also helps to strengthen small-scale producers.
- Trade and Food safety standards: In response to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) estimation that world trade could plummet by 32% in 2020, the FAO focused its endeavors on conducting agricultural trade assessments, encouraging international commodity standards, fortifying various regional trade networks and promoting regional programs to deter constraints to a thriving trade network.
- Boosting smallholder resilience for recovery: As a crucial party in food supply systems, smallholders needed a protection plan to keep their businesses going. In response, the FAO devised a four-year program to help smallholders recover from the current and future impacts of COVID-19. This program’s principal activities include, but are not limited to, providing food assistance to the most food-insecure populations, expanding insurance, microfinance and credit projects.
- Preventing the next zoonotic pandemic: Around 60% of human infectious diseases have an animal origin, including the COVID-19 virus. The FAO’s plan to prevent the next zoonotic pandemic, therefore, entailed applying a One Health approach. This outlook recognizes the interconnectedness between animals, plants, humans and their environment to avoid future animal-origin pandemics.
- Food systems transformation: As the ongoing pandemic has exposed various loopholes in modern food supply systems, this plan’s objectives were to boost the resilience of existing food supply chains, guarantee food safety, reduce food wastage and support agrifood ventures.
COVID-19 Food Coalition
In addition to its recovery response, the FAO led the COVID-19 Food Coalition in June. The Government of Italy launched this initiative to provide financial support to countries that the pandemic left vulnerable. Furthermore, it seeks to address both immediate and long-term consequences of the pandemic to food and agricultural systems.
COVID-19 has exacerbated world hunger and left many countries’ food systems vulnerable. Despite the pandemic’s damage, however, there is hope for food-insecure communities worldwide. This hope is thanks to the impactful methods with which the FAO fights hunger.
– Divine Mbabazi