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Opinion: Food Security & Nutrition

Helping the World’s Most Vulnerable Through COVID-19

Dirk Schattschneider Dirk Schattschneider
Iris Krebber Iris Krebber

COVID-19 is having an unprecedented impact on the world. Before this pandemic, there were already more than 820 million chronically hungry people globally. COVID-19 has put food right at the front of everyone’s minds as we hear about possible harvest labour shortages in Germany or see empty shelves in supermarkets in the UK. As ever, the most vulnerable are hit hardest, both at home but especially abroad.

The shock to food systems will be particularly strongly felt in low-income countries, with the potential for a global food security crisis recognised by leaders from across both the private and public sectors in the Call for Action issued by the Food and Land Use Coalition on April 9, 2020. The cascading impact of the slow-down in global economies, caused in large part by the necessary containment measures, is expected to have a long-term impact on the poverty and food security of smallholder farmers and their families in developing countries.

It is therefore critical to start thinking about the post-pandemic recovery now in order to anticipate and mitigate some of the longer-term impacts and to prevent escalation into a larger scale poverty and food crisis. This is where the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP) has a role to play.

There are lessons from the past that can serve to inform how we address the consequences of COVID-19. We need to avoid today’s public health crisis becoming a food crisis tomorrow. We recall how, a decade ago, a food price spike triggered instability and a rise in the number of hungry people to nearly 1 billion.

Credit: GAFSP/Kimberly Parent

World leaders at that time recognised the need for an urgent and coordinated response to strengthen food systems in low-income countries. They realised that investment was required along value chains and knew it needed to be transparent and owned by the countries themselves. Such investment had to be channeled wherever it could be most impactful, whether that be to governments, to the private sector, or directly to farmers.

And so, in response to a call for action by the G20, GAFSP was born. Since its launch in 2010, GAFSP has been helping to build stronger food systems in poor countries around the world. GAFSP’s unique model embodies the core principles of aid effectiveness – it is a flexible financing mechanism that channels well-targeted, additional funding through existing multilateral agencies to where it can be most effective.

To date, GAFSP has allocated over $1.3 billion in grant funding, $330 million in agribusiness investment projects, and $13.2 million to support producer organisations. These funds have contributed to improving the incomes and food security of almost 13 million smallholder farmers and their families by generating US$252 million in improved income for farmers each year. Thanks also to GAFSP, approximately 1.2 million people have received nutrition services. While GAFSP has demonstrated impressive results so far, our work in fighting poverty and food insecurity is still ongoing.

Today, more than ever, the need for programmes like GAFSP is crucial as a source of financing for non-humanitarian investments in the most vulnerable countries and communities around the world. This will ensure our progress to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals is not further reversed by the ongoing pandemic. Learning lessons from previous health crises, such as Ebola, show that both immediate safety nets and investment with a view to recovery and resilience are critical to help mitigate the severity of income, food and nutrition security impacts.

The possible impacts of COVID-19 on food systems are still unfolding and the degree of severity of these impacts will vary from country to country. GAFSP’s flexible, adaptive, and comprehensive working model enables countries and recipients to use funds for virtually any type of strategic agricultural interventions, subject to their needs. The progamme pools donor funds and allocates financing via a competitive process to where the funding is most needed, where it makes the largest impact, and where recipients are ready to use the funding.

GAFSP beneficiaries and stakeholders represented in the Steering Committee call on the G20 to again show the necessary leadership and help prevent a new food security crisis from emerging due to COVID-19. This will require meaningful investment and close coordination amongst all actors in food systems, including regional efforts, country strategies, civil society and the private sector, including farmers and producers. It calls for a recommitment to programmes such as GAFSP, which works alongside its multilateral partners to deliver critical investment to those systems. We, as co-chairs of this programme, will work together to continue GAFSP’s crucial role around the world.

Dirk Schattschneider is Deputy Director General at the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Iris Krebber is Head of Agriculture and Land at the UK Department for International Development (DFID). 

This blog post originally appeared on the SDG2 Advocacy Hub website. It is republished with permission.

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