EMBARGOED

Is our
food supply
at risk?


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?


Understanding agrifood systems

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:

primary production

1

Primary production

primary production

2

Food distribution through food supply chains and transport networks

primary production

3

Household consumption

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.


Disaster strikes: How can agrifood systems absorb shocks and stresses?

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 is essential

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.

diversity primary production
Diversity of primary production

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.

diversity food supply chain
Diversity of food supply chains

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 food availability
Diversity of food availability

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.

diversity Transport network
Diversity of transport networks

agrifood systems that are better connected, through robust and redundant food transport networks, provide more options once a disruptive event occurs.


Why we need to act now

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?

FIND OUT

Indicators of unaffordability of healthy diets

Number of people unable to afford a healthy diet in
2019
Number of people at risk of unaffordability of a healthy diet if incomes are reduced by one-third
Percent
Total number (millions)
Percent
Total number (millions)
WORLD 41.9 3 000.5 13.4 956.4
Central Asia 16.9 5.8 18.1 6.2
Eastern and South-eastern Asia 23.9 530.0 18.0 398.0
Europe 1.7 12.0 3.1 22.0
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
Northern America 1.4 5.1 0.5 1.7
Oceania 1.8 0.5 0.9 0.2
Southern Asia 71.3 1 828.0 16.8 303.0
Sub-Saharan Africa 84.7 875.0 7.8 81.0
COUNTRY INCOME GROUPS
Low-income 87.6 463.0 6.9 37.0
Lower-middle-income 69.6 1 953.0 15.9 447.0
Upper-middle-income 21.1 568.0 17.1 460.0
High-income 1.4 16.0 1.1 12.0

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.


So, what can be done?

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.


Find out more

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.