Virtual parliamentary dialogues: Food Security and Nutrition in the time of Covid-19

Parliamentarians from Latin America gather to discuss safeguards for food security and nutrition in the context of COVID-19

04/03/2021 - 

Nearly one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, parliamentarians gathered for the first in a series of virtual dialogues on food security and nutrition in the time of COVID-19. The dialogues, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and supported by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), offer a forum for parliamentarians to exchange experiences and best practices in mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 on food security, in both the containment and recovery phases of the pandemic.

The first dialogue in the series brought together parliamentarians from Central America and South America to discuss challenges and opportunities for food security and nutrition policy processes in the context of COVID-19. The current pandemic is not only a global health crisis, but also a threat to livelihoods, the global food trade, markets, and food supply chains. Due to their legislative, budgetary and oversight responsibilities, parliamentarians can play a crucial role in addressing and mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition, by protecting employment and local economies, promoting economic inclusion and ensuring the right to food.  

Studies reveal that even before the pandemic, Latin America was not on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 - Zero Hunger. According to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020: Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets, food insecurity is rising faster in Latin America and Caribbean than in any other region of the world. From 2014 to 2019, the percentage of food insecure people in the region rose from 22.9 percent to 31.7 percent: even without taking into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of hungry people in the region is projected to increase by more than 19 million over the next ten years. Within the region, women, indigenous peoples, afro-descendants, and people living in rural areas are most likely to experience food insecurity.

Opening the session, Marcela Villarreal, Director of Partnerships and UN Collaboration at FAO, said she hoped the virtual meetings would not only promote political dialogue between parliamentarians, but also offer an opportunity to identify possible concrete parliamentary initiatives on the Right to Food and promote adequate legal frameworks. She underlined the link between family farming, sustainable food systems and the achievement of the right to adequate food, highlighting the role of parliamentarians within the framework of the UN Decade of Family Farming. She reiterated FAO’s commitment to working closely with the Latin American and Caribbean Parliamentarian Fronts Against Hunger, to ensure that other regions of the world might benefit from best practices and legislative frameworks developed over the past decade through their action.

Fernando Jiménez Ontiveros, Director of Multilateral, Horizontal and Financial Cooperation in the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), agreed that support to parliamentary alliances in Latin America and the Caribbean was essential to guarantee food security and nutrition for all as the region recovered from the pandemic.

Jairo Flores, Coordinator of the Parliamentary Front against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, reiterated the parliamentarians’ commitment to support their governments in the context of the emergency. He shared that around 30 bills have already been passed in the region in the context of COVID-19, with legislation in support of school feeding programmes playing an important role in protecting vulnerable families from food insecurity.

Parliamentarians identified specific areas that were central to protecting vulnerable people and starting countries on the road to recovery. Policies which offer economic protection, promote the inclusion of small-scale producers and facilitate access to healthy diets were among those which were considered to have the most impact in mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security and nutrition. Hon. Ana Lilia Rivera, Senator of Republic of Mexico, drew attention to the fact that COVID-19 had hit harder in countries with unhealthy diets, high rates of obesity and nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases. In Latin America, where the cost of a healthy diet is 3.4 to four times higher than the cost of an energy sufficient diet, healthy food is simply out of reach for a large part of the population.

Many parliamentarians spoke of the need to involve small-scale producers in the recovery phase. Hon. Teresa Calix, Deputy of Honduras, spoke of the progress made in the productive sector following the passage of a law which allowed small-scale producers to borrow money at low rates. Hon. Mauricio Linares, Deputy of El Salvador, described a national law on family farming as an important opportunity to promote inclusion and gender equality in El Salvador, where family farmers are responsible for 87 percent of the country’s agriculture. Hon. Faber Muñoz, Member of the House of Representatives of Colombia, stressed the importance of public procurement from small-scale producers, saying that concrete investments in people were needed to achieve food security and nutrition.

The conversation touched on the future of food systems as well, with Hon. Paola Valladares, Deputy of the Republic of Costa Rica, identifying resilient and green agriculture and the necessary infrastructure for clean water as priorities for countries in the region. Hon. Guido Girardi, Senator of the Republic of Chile, presented the connection between economic and social rights and called for a “right to information” in addition to the right to food: as consumers, saying people had the right to understand the nutritional value of the food that is available to them. 

Focusing on a way out of the pandemic, Hon. Silvia Giacoppo, Senator of Argentina and FAO focal point in PARLATINO, presented model laws drawn up by PARLATINO with an eye to the future. Model laws can be used as blueprints for legislation at the national level: one such law recognizes water and sanitation as fundamental rights for human dignity, with the potential to benefit health, biodiversity, ecosystem protection, food security and much more. Another law, planned for 2021, aims to reduce food loss and waste.

From now until September, the virtual dialogues series will continue to offer parliamentarians a place to share ideas and best practices from their countries and regions as the world attempts to contain and recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The next dialogue, on March 19, will focus on experiences of parliamentarians from francophone Africa.