• Mon / 27 April 2020 / 16:23
  • Category: Economy
  • News Code: 99020805846
  • Journalist : 99999

This is no time to allow for food loss, waste

This is no time to allow for food loss, waste

Tehran (ISNA) - Due to COVID-19 outbreak, securing food security and protecting agricultural sources and products have become a big challenge for all countries which force some countries to take supportive policies to protect vulnerable people.

Chief Economist and Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Development Department (ES) of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Dr. Maximo Torero explained policies that governments should take in this regard.

Here is the full text of his interview with ISNA:

Considering the fact that certain countries have imposed some degrees of limitations on transportations/movements which itself affected the businesses and consequently decreased the income of the population in overall, what solutions or strategies FAO recommends for the countries to take to keep food supply alive?

That’s a big question and of course a good one. First, regions and countries vary enormously, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But let’s start with what FAO Director-General QU Dongyu has consistently emphasized: Every country should try to boost its agricultural and food production. Without supply, supply chains obviously can’t work. Also, by growing food several important goals are helped: rural farming households, often poor, will have both more to subsist on and more income opportunities, as well as providing more that can ultimately go to the urban areas where more than half the world’s population live. On top of that, promoting smallholder farming activity will likely increase the amount of fresh and nutritious food available, and nutrition contributes to the health response to COVID-19. Boosting agricultural output means crafting policies that assure and stabilize access to inputs like seeds and fertilizers as well as labour, which must be made safe. To be sure, keeping the food supply chain alive also means bolstering intermediate actors such as processors, mills and traders.

To make the food more accessible for all individuals during COVID-19 pandemic, is it necessary to reduce the food prices?

It’s not that simple. Food prices may very well decline after some initial volatility, but that is not an entirely good thing. It may reflect poorer choices for consumers, and definitely means smaller incomes for those engaged in the food system. Measures to control prices often backfire. If prices are forced too low, production may be distorted and reduced. Keeping the food supply chains alive and functioning is a much more effective way to avoid fast-rising food prices, and helps balance the interests of producers and consumers, who after all both need each other.

What is your idea regarding certain suggested initiatives, implying that the government should provide the populations with food packages/aid?

Governments should definitely aid their citizens, using existing social protection schemes and innovating new ones where appropriate. Often cash transfers will be the most effective way, but in-kind food packages can definitely play a role. This is especially the case where markets break down, a situation we should try to avoid but that can happen. High-value products such as fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat are today sometimes being lost or wasted because they can’t be sold – school meals programmes, for example, have been disrupted, closing down a key end market for many producers. In that kind of situation it’s not about cash, and government-driven interventions to buy that produce and deliver it to needy households can be effective. China revived its Vegetable Basket programme during the outbreak’s peak, and the United States of America is considering Harvest Boxes, so this solution is not a function of wealth but of making sure supply and demand meet. This is no time to allow for food loss and waste!

It appears that due to COVID-19 outbreak, the overall demand for agricultural products has been decreased; in this situation, what measures FAO recommends for the countries to take in order to support agricultural producers? Could you please share some successful experiences that are implemented by other countries in this regard?

You raise several important points there. We need to assess the demand side. In general it will probably be driven by declining incomes. State intervention to support the economy and households should be targeted so that households do not cut back too much on their basic food needs. Some countries, such as Peru have made swift use of their national pension system to make sure vulnerable households are given extra cashflow support. It’s also possible that decline demands because supply has declined – we’ve seen this in some developing countries. This is a net negative for producers and consumers and fixing it is precisely what we mean by emphasizing the importance of keeping food supply chains functioning. To help producers, FAO is recommending assuring that key inputs are available and accessible, that credit flows are facilitated, all in a timely way so that farmers do not miss opportunities. We have provided detailed data on crop calendars to help the agriculture sector to optimize its efforts. FAO has also streamlined its Food and Agriculture Policy Decision Analysis tool, where countries can upload and share initiatives they’ve taken to cope with the pandemic. India, for example, is using it national railway as an infrastructure vehicle to distribute two million meals a day. The Dominican Republic has redeployed its school-feeding programme to reach millions of vulnerable households. Information can be a precious tool. Sri Lanka has set up a hotline to allow keystone plantation sectors – cashews and sugarcane, for instance - to continue. There are a lot of opportunities to use digital technology to reduce physical participation in wholesale markets. Oman has set up an electronic ordering system allowing people to buy fish from the central market, thus mitigating damage to producers and consumers linked to an important high-value perishable and nutritious product. Let me add one thing: there are many things that can and should be done – creative ideas are welcome! – but it’s essential that a priority be to protect the most vulnerable people in society. Success in responding to COVID-19 requires concentrated and cooperative efforts from all and we must make sure that all are enabled to make them. And let me add one more thing: In Iran, it’s important to keep up the fight against the desert locust infestation. FAO has a lot of skills and is contributing resources and expertise to boost Iran’s technical capacity in this area. Waging this battle is very important for the country and its food security.

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