FAO rolls out toolkit for smart policymaking during the COVID-19 crisis

Policy makers can rapidly review and assess options with Food and Agriculture Policy Decision Analysis (FAPDA) platform

08 April 2020, Rome - Imagine a virtual space where to search and find what decision makers are doing in their countries worldwide to respond to and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. A global library that provides detailed information on how different countries, with different social and fiscal landscapes and diverse agricultural endowments, are trying to keep their supply chains moving amid the disruptions caused by travel and other health restrictions. 

That space is now available and free to access.

FAO has outlined some broad principles - avoid food export bans, bolster social protection programmes for the most vulnerablewhose adoption can contribute to keeping vital food supply and value chains alive amid the disruptions caused by travel and other health restrictions. Yet on the ground every country is different, with particular social and fiscal landscapes as well as agricultural endowments. As a result,sopolicies often need to be tailor-made  to ensure food security for all.

India, for example, is rolling out software for warehouse-based trading of harvested foodstuffs that reduce the risks of congestion at wholesale markets where farmers sell their produce. Poland is offering subsidized loans to keep food processing facilities working. South Sudan is allowing restaurants to offer takeaway services. The Russian Federation, where lockdown measures began this month (April), is expediting benefit payments  sent to low-income households with children.

"There is no one-size-fits-all-solution but there are numerous initiatives that can inspire adaptive policies that can be fast-tracked and put to work helping people," says FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero. "Best practices are in the eye of the beholder if you will, and they can help countries craft smarter policies and anticipate coming challenges."

To make it easier for all member states to consider their options, FAO is relying on its recently revamped FAPDA data base. The acronym stands for Food and Agriculture Policy Decision Analysis and the tool is an easy-to-use platform for countries to share what they are doing and rapidly search for ideas from their peers.

"We're in an emergency and time is of the essence", says Torero. "This tool is already up and running."

FAPDA was set up to collect countries' food security policy decisions in the wake of the global food price crises of 2008. On the COVID-19 pandemic's eve, the database was offering over 10 000 policy decisions and 2 000 national policy frameworks from 100 countries. FAO subsequently decided to adjust this wealthy database to host also a new section that maps current official decisions being taken around the world to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on food and agricultural systems.

These can range from Japan's ¥6 trillion cash transfer scheme to Sri Lanka's creation of a hotline for emerging issues faced by tea and coconut growers and exporters.

To add value and speed for its users, the open-access spaceis searchable in a variety of ways: by country, chronology,and commodity; by targets - consumers, producers or trade - and themes, such as nutrition, tax or natural resource management. It also indicates the date and legal stage attained by the various measures, and offers an easy-to-use module to submit a new policy action, which will be added to the data base after validation by the FAPDA team.

Adding depth to breadth

Appropriate policies to bolster food systems during the COVID-19 pandemic naturally vary depending on circumstances. Some countries import most of their food, while others import some products while exporting others, meaning trade remains highly important. State and fiscal capacities vary enormously, as do social patterns such as population density, urbanization, and access to sanitation, education and digital technologies.

Yet FAO's accumulated expertise, from engaging in agricultural, rural development and humanitarian relief projects in many countries over many decades, allows for some evaluations to be made. So, to complement FAPDA, FAO has bolstered another policy platform to analyze past experiences in terms of their likely advantages and drawbacks in the effort to keep food and agricultural systems alive during this crisis.

Maintaining food value chains to ensure food security amid a pandemic that often requires sharp restrictions on human movement raises a host of issues related to existing institutions such as school feeding programmes and making sure that smallholders have a way to sell their output to protect their own livelihoods and enhance those of others - be they rural smallholders in developing countries or participants in farmers' markets in more industrialized nations.

"Our goal here is to make all decision makers, from the public and private sector, able to move from proposals and diagnoses to prescriptive and evidence-based solutions," says Lorenzo Bellù, FAO Senior Economist who, in addition to leading FAPDA, is contributing to the policy platform. "There are a lot of trade-offs to consider, but this tool can help countries make them wisely and contribute to expediting the establishment of holistic and inclusive policy frameworks."

This platform is constantly updated to offer a searchable compilation of policy practices in more than 130 countries that all member states can use to inform their decision making and response today and is structured into six thematic areas: Emergencies, Nutrition, Trade, Social Protection, Development and Transformation, and Incentives and Disincentives. Navigation is available in multiple languages and aided by a map as well as a free text search function.

Photo: ©FAO
The Food and Agriculture Policy Decision Analysis (FAPDA) is an easy-to-use platform for countries to share what they are doing and rapidly search for ideas from their peers.