Solution Cluster 5.2.3
Pandemic Resilient Food Systems
Based on the COVID experience, as a highly-disruptive shock that has affected food systems all over the world, this coalition will deal with a four-pronged compact with policy interventions that have proven to enhance resilience of food systems: a) safety nets, b) schools as hubs to secure food to children, c) civic collective actions for food based on cooperation, solidarity, mutual aid and caring for others, and d) public policies that guarantee free, fair and open agri-food trade flows. This cluster will be dealing with those solutions that, combined, enable food systems to cope, absorb and respond to external shocks while maintaining one of its basic features, namely feeding people adequately and guaranteeing that they are free from hunger. Actually, those four elements would be essential pillars of the Universal Food Access scheme that, mirroring those already in place in many countries for health and education, would secure that everyone gets access to enough and adequate food to get a healthy diet, either by market mechanisms, public provision or civic collective actions for food.
About this Solution Cluster
The global shock of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for resilient and efficient food production and supply chains. The current industrial food system is not fit for purpose as it doesn’t serve the farmers adequately, specially peasant farmers, smallholders, pastoralists and fisherfolks; it doesn’t respond to the needs of poor people who are hungry and at risk of malnutrition, particularly women and children. And they are also far too long and too easily disrupted because it is more articulated around bottlenecks, market concentration and oligopolies.
COVID-19 has demonstrated three key lessons: i) the fragility of market mechanisms to fully cover the food security needs of the most vulnerable households and the importance of public and civic-informal networks; ii) the critical importance of addressing persistent inequalities, as vulnerable populations were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and its associated economic recession, specially casual workers, urban dwellers and women, children and elders, and iii) as a zoonotic disease, COVID-19 has highlighted the negative impact that failing to correct our relationship with nature will have on global sustainable development efforts.
Returning to business as usual is not an option. In a world of persistent inequalities there have been calls from various international and multilateral bodies, including the UNSG and the OECD, to ‘build back better’ via a sustainable, resilient and inclusive recovery with a strong focus on resilient food systems, resilient health systems and well established social protection systems. Moreover, two key public institutions have emerged as vital in securing access to food and other vital needs to the most vulnerable, namely (a) schools to secure meals to children and (b) cash, voucher or food-based safety nets to secure vital income to those who lost income sources, employment or incurred in health-related expenses.
This set of political interventions to render food systems more resilient to the next disruptive event are based on cumulative evidence of its impact, feasibility and cost-effectiveness. Actually, the relevance of the four pillars of this coalition to cope, withstand and recover from the COVID impacts has been proven in many countries. Actually, home grown school feeding programmes have been the mainstay of many poor families all over the world, thanks to a combination of public funds and humanitarian assistance provided by institutions (i.e. WFP). The same case applies to different types of safety nets (food-based, cash-based on voucher-based), that have become the most relevant public instrument States have applied to buffer the economic impacts of COVID19 lockdown restrictions (see World Bank database, coordinated by Ugo Gentilini). In both cases, once those instruments of public policy have proven its efficacy to secure access to food to the most vulnerable, the key challenge for them to become game-changers is to scale them up to become universal. As they are cost-effective and they can guarantee the right to food, they should be upscaled massively and progressively, so as to cover the whole population of any given country, because we all need to eat to survive and because it can be done (in similar terms that universal health coverage and education for all are political objectives signed off by most countries in the world). In addition to public provision and market mechanisms, self-organised collective actions by citizens shall be encouraged (neighbourhood networks, community supported agriculture, mutual aid networks, etc). Those informal networks have mushroomed all over the world in villages, communities and neighbourhoods, from the US to Philippines, from Russia to South Africa.
By universalizing two of the most successful, tested and morally accepted public policies, safety nets and school feeding, this coalition seeks to elevate the political ambition of the fight against hunger, the guarantee of the right to food and the resilience of national food systems to external shocks. By extending gradually (in a decade-long initiative) the coverage of school feeding programmes (accompanied by nutritional and agricultural education, specially in rural areas) and the different modalities of safety nets to cover as many vulnerable people as possible, national food systems could be reinforced to cope with a possible next shock (either another pandemic, a protracted drought or an economic crises), securing a minimum vital access to food to vulnerable groups and sectors. Moreover, by using schools as hubs of development (improving facilities, public works, school gardens, public procurement with local producers to supply school canteens that cook school meals with local, seasonal and sustainably produced products), those institutions of the public sector (that are relevant for education, health and food) may become nodes of resilience and development, articulating production and consumption in short circuits. Actually, using a logic different from the market one, the Ubuntu rationality or the care for community well-being as part of my own well-being, we can focus all our efforts is securing that everybody gets access to food in times of distress, by public, market or civic not-for-profit means and solidarity networks, instead of just securing market mechanisms. In any case, it is important that market mechanisms are also pandemic-proof, and the experience acquired these two years will serve to prepare better contingency plans for another pandemic-related shock in the years to come.