Diálogos Parlamentarios Virtuales: Seguridad alimentaria y nutrición en tiempos de COVID-19

Parliamentarians from African countries meet to discuss food security and nutrition in the time of Covid-19

15/04/2021 - 

Parliamentarians working to safeguard food security and nutrition continue to meet virtually in a series of dialogues organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with the latest meeting bringing together legislators from various English-speaking African countries. The dialogues, supported by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), help to keep food security and nutrition at the top of political agendas and offer parliamentarians a forum to exchange best practices and lessons learned in guaranteeing food security, nutrition and the right to food during the containment and recovery phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gonzalo Vega Molina, Head of the Department of Cooperation with Sub-Saharan Africa of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), described worsening levels of food security and nutrition in the wake of the pandemic as the outcome of a combination of crises: socio-economic, security and health. Addressing the parliamentarians gathered for the dialogue, he affirmed Spain’s support for legislators around the world in the fight against hunger and the defense of the Right to Food, noting that the Spanish government had approved additional special contributions over the last year in response to the pandemic, with nearly 60% of the funds set aside to mitigate the medium- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 in various countries.

Legislative interventions play an important role in protecting populations in times of pandemic, as they can help minimize disruptions in the food supply chain and guarantee the availability and accessibility of food, particularly for vulnerable households. In the context of the COVID-19 Response and Recovery programme, FAO offers support to parliamentarians through awareness-raising and capacity building activities, support in drafting laws which support food and nutrition security, and multi-stakeholder consultations to support and coordinate legislative actions which can guarantee healthy diets for all.

Parliamentarians can also help to ensure food security over the long term by supporting the essential role of family farmers, according to Marcela Villarreal, Director of Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division at FAO. Referencing the United Nations Decade on Family Farming (UNDFF), which began in 2019 and will continue until 2028, she encouraged parliamentarians to develop public policies and investments in favor of family farming, in order to unlock the transformative potential of family farmers to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In Africa, several countries are currently moving ahead with their National Action Plans in the context of the UNDFF, including Gambia, which has already designed and approved an action plan for family farming. Increasingly, these plans have included measures to address the current crisis and promote the necessary economic recovery in rural areas, recognizing the role of family farmers as key actors in the recovery from the pandemic.

Following the opening remarks, parliamentarians had the opportunity to share specific measures their parliaments had discussed in response to the pandemic, and to reflect on the role that they play in addressing and mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 on food security. Hon. Fatoumata Njie, Member of the ECOWAS Network, drew attention to the problem of urban hunger. While people tend to think of hunger as a rural problem, she said, lack of transportation and restrictions during the pandemic had resulted in an abundance of food in certain areas and a lack of food in others. With people in urban areas unable to grow their own food and prices rising - up to 30% increases in the costs of certain staple foods - Gambia’s city dwellers were the hardest hit.  

Hon. Omar Darboe, Member of the Gambia’s National Assembly, stressed the need for immediate assistance to the most vulnerable and resilience-building to ensure long-term recovery. In Gambia, such measures took the form of distributions of rice to food-insecure people, assistance to farmers through procurement of equipment and inputs, and support to small businesses. The national assembly is currently working on an insurance scheme, and advocating for extra allocations for agriculture, he said, as they believe investing in agriculture offers a way out of the pandemic.

Hon. Yousef Alfakhri, Member of the Parliament of Libya and Member of the PAPA-FSN, said that the population of Libya has been suffering from a major humanitarian crisis since 2011 as a result of the civil war. He mentioned that according to the Humanitarian Needs Overview 2020 report, 897,000 people need humanitarian aid. Of these, 317,000 people are in need of food aid. The ongoing crisis may lead to an impediment to imports and the collapse of the internal distribution system, with high price increases threatening the ability of the poor to cover their basic food needs.  

Hon. Maria Elago, Member of the Parliament of Namibia, also spoke of investments in agriculture as a key step to recovery. The Namibian government has introduced a stimulus package to assist people during COVID-19, and continues to provide support to farmers and green schemes across the country, in order to enhance production, ensure self sufficiency and reduce reliance on imports.

Hon. Dr Mwilola Imakando, Member of the Parliament of Zambia, said that the Zambian parliament was looking at policy responses to the pandemic and assessing how COVID-19 has affected market access and imports and impacted small businesses. Restrictions of movements have had a serious impact on food security, as these had resulted in difficulties in delivering inputs where they were needed and in turn making it more challenging to grow a variety of crops. One of the most important steps towards recovery has been to accurately track information, he said - in this regard, the parliamentarians cooperate with NGOs and government agencies in order to have a full picture of the impacts of the pandemic, and the measures which need to be taken to protect health and provide relief.  

Hon. Ponde Mecha, Member of the National Assembly of Zambia, stressed the importance of social protection programs and increased budgetary allocations to ensure protection for the most vulnerable, especially women. He highlighted the success of youth and women-led enterprises which had received investments during the pandemic. Hon. Fatoumata Njie agreed that women were a vulnerable group that merited special attention, stressing that where women are affected by the pandemic, children would be as well. She called for increased collaboration between different parliaments and parliamentary networks in order to share lessons learned and thus create greater impact.

Parliamentarians from around the world will continue to meet virtually during the coming months to exchange ideas and support each other in the recovery from the pandemic. “If parliamentarians have a clear and strategic role for development and achieving the development goals,” noted Marcela Villarreal, “in times of crisis, this role becomes even more important and even more strategic.”


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