The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerability of agri-food systems to shocks and stresses, and led to increased global food insecurity and malnutrition.
Now, countries need to urgently make agri-food systems more resilient, efficient, sustainable and inclusive, according to the 2021 State of Food and Agriculture report.
Published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the report provides an assessment of the ability of national agri-food systems to respond to and recover from shock and stressors, such as extreme weather events as well as plant and animal diseases.
The report provides over 100 country-level indicators of the resilience of agri-food systems by analysing contributing factors, including transport networks, trade movement and the availability of healthy and varied diets.
The analysis shows that a country’s primary production sector is more resilient when it produces a diverse mix of food and non-food products and sells them to a wide range of markets, both domestic and international. While this favours higher-income countries, the report notes that in terms of food availability, lower-income countries have a diversity that is comparable to that of larger, higher-income countries.
Yet, another important aspect highlighted by the report is that low-income countries face much bigger challenges in ensuring access to food through transport networks, which are key to keeping agrifood supply chains active. If main transport routes are disrupted, many low-income countries would have limited capacity for food distribution which would see the rising food costs and huge quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables left to decay in farmers’ fields, according to the report.
Furthermore, the report warns that three billion people cannot afford a healthy diet and an additional one billion will join them if a shock reduces their income by one-third. The report argues that “these risks are unacceptable in a world that produces enough food to feed its entire population.” The report finds that diverse, redundant and well-connected agri-food supply chains are needed to increase resilience, as they provide multiple pathways for producing, sourcing and distributing food.
The report recommends that to stay competitive and protect their livelihoods, small-scale agricultural producers need to be well integrated into supply chains for food, inputs and services. It also recommends that governments make resilience in agri-food systems a strategic part of national and global responses to ongoing and future challenges.