We are at an important crossroads.
The economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate variability and extremes, conflict, and the persistence of hunger and malnutrition have shown us that now is the time for us to build more resilient agrifood systems.
If we don’t, agrifood systems will not be able to ensure food availability to all as well as physical and economic access to nutritious foods that make up healthy diets.
So, how can we protect our agrifood systems from shocks and stresses and better ensure nutritious food is available to all? In other words, how can we make our agrifood systems resilient?
First, let’s look at what agrifood systems are. Before food reaches our plates, it travels a long way. It’s every stage of that journey – from harvest to consumption – that makes up our agrifood systems. They involve a set of interlinked activities that encompass farming, processing, transporting, eating and more.
Although often complex and international in scope, agrifood systems have three main components:
Food distribution through food supply chains and transport networks
From farmers to truck drivers and beyond, agrifood systems involve many actors operating across different components. Shocks or stresses in any of these components can spread rapidly throughout systems and threaten the functioning of supply chains and the food security and nutrition of consumers.
The COVID-19 pandemic raised concerns that adequate food supplies would not reach consumers as supply chains faced multiple shocks and stresses.
Ensuring agrifood systems could perform well during the pandemic was a key concern, and these experiences have led to increased analysis of these systems. After all, the preservation of agrifood systems helps to ensure food security, nutrition and the livelihoods of millions of people.
The pandemic also created an opportunity to promote further interest in ensuring diversity and connectivity, both key for resilient agrifood systems.
Diversity – in production, output markets, import sources and supply chains – was a key resource during the pandemic because it created multiple pathways for absorbing the shock.
Primary production diversity provides resilience during extreme weather and other shocks, such as pests and diseases. It can better protect the environment against soil deterioration, nutrient depletion and biodiversity loss.
Allowing a mix of supply chains – including modern, traditional and local chains – can act a as buffer against shocks. For example, many local supply chains, often based on small-scale producers and small and medium agrifood enterprises, proved to be nimble in their responses to COVID-19.
Diversity of food availability from domestic production, stocks and imports is key in the face of output failures. It provides multiple sources of adequate food supplies. It also contributes to dietary diversity, which underpins food security and nutrition.
agrifood systems that are better connected, through robust and redundant food transport networks, provide more options once a disruptive event occurs.
We know that any challenges to agrifood systems can affect large numbers of people. Currently, 41.9% of the global population are unable to afford a healthy diet. That’s over 3 billion people.
But what if there was a disaster or an economic shock?
|Eastern and South-eastern Asia||23.9||530.0||18.0||398.0|
|Latin America and the Caribbean||19.3||113.0||14.5||85.0|
|Northern Africa and Western Asia||45.0||178.0||15.1||60.0|
|Southern Asia||71.3||1 828.0||16.8||303.0|
|COUNTRY INCOME GROUPS|
NOTES: The table shows the number and the share of people who cannot afford
a healthy diet, or who are at risk of not being able to afford one if a shock reduces their income
by one-third, by region and income group in 2019. The 2019 cost of a healthy diet is taken from FAO
et al. (2021). See Annex 1 of the report for methodology and data sources and Annex
3 of the report for the results for the full set of countries.
SOURCE: FAO elaboration for the report.
An additional 1 billion people around the world are at risk of not affording a healthy diet if a shock caused their incomes to reduce by one-third.
Furthermore, food costs could increase for up to 845 million people if a disruption to critical transport links were to occur.
Resilient agrifood systems are key to ensuring that even greater numbers of people do not lose access to healthy diets.
For governments and policymakers, this can be achieved by:
To ensure the affordability of a healthy diet, either the cost of food must come down, or the incomes of the vulnerable population must increase or be supported through, for example, social protection programmes – or, ideally, both.
In addition, the resilience of rural low-income households can be significantly strengthened through education, non-farm employment and cash transfers.
The State of Food and Agriculture 2021 offers a close-up look at how we can make agrifood systems more resilient to shocks and stresses, and in turn provide affordable, healthy diets for all.