FAO report exposes fragility of agrifood systems

The report offers solutions on how to deal with sudden shocks
calendar icon 24 November 2021
clock icon 2 minute read

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations released its State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2021 report yesterday. Its focus is on making agrifood systems more resilient to shocks.

The 2021 report said countries need to make their agrifood systems more resilient to sudden shocks of the kind witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without proper preparation, unpredictable shocks will continue to undermine agrifood systems.

The report provides an assessment of the ability of national agrifood systems to respond and recover from shocks and stressors, including extreme weather events, and surges in plant and animal diseases and pests. It also offers guidance on how to improve resilience.

According to the report, approximately 3 billion people globally cannot afford a healthy diet. A further 1 billion could join them if their income was reduced by one-third. Food costs could increase for up to 845 million if disruptions to critical transport occurs.

The world has not been on track to meet its commitment to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030, FAO said. Historically, food production and supply chains have been vulnerable to climate extremes, armed conflict or increases in global food prices. The frequency and severity of these shocks, however, continue to rise.

“The pandemic highlighted both the resilience and the weakness of our agrifood systems,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu at a virtual event for the launch.

The report provides country-level indicators of the resilience of agrifood systems of more than 100 countries. It analyses contributing factors, including transport networks, trade movement and the availability of healthy and varied diets.

While low-income countries generally face much bigger challenges, the report's findings reveal that middle-income countries are also at risk. In Brazil, for example, 60 percent of the country’s export value comes from just one trading partner. This leaves it with fewer options if a shock hits a partner country.

Even high-income countries such as Australia and Canada are at risk from a shock because of the long distances involved in the distribution of food. For nearly half of the countries analysed by FAO experts, the closure of critical network links would increase local transport time by 20 percent or more, thereby increasing costs and food prices for consumers.

Based on the evidence of the report, FAO recommends that governments make resilience in agrifood systems a strategic part of their responses to ongoing and future challenges. The key to this resilience is diversification, said the report - diversification of input sources, production, markets and supply chains.

FAO also points to the value of connectivity. Well-connected agrifood networks are better able to overcome disruptions by shifting sources of supply and channels for transport, marketing, inputs and labour.

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