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Coronavirus - Africa: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launches the new COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme outlining seven key priority areas

FAO unveiled today its new comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme, aimed at preventing a global food emergency during and after the COVID-19 pandemic while working on medium to long-term development response for food security and nutrition.

The agency is calling for $1.2 billion in initial investment to support the needs of the new programme.

The Programme was launched today during a virtual dialogue with private and public sectors entitled "Joint action on COVID-19: boosting our food and agricultural response". The event was organised by FAO to provide an agile and coordinated global response that ensures access to nutritious food for all by mobilizing all forms of resources and partnerships at country, regional and global level.

In line with the UN approach to "build back better" post COVID-19, and in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the new programme aims to mitigate the immediate impacts of the pandemic while strengthening the longer-term resilience of food systems and livelihoods.

"We cannot employ a ‘business as usual' approach anymore," highlighted FAO Director-General QU Dongyu in his opening remarks, adding that "We must work very hard to limit COVID-19's damaging effects on food security and nutrition. We need to be more country-driven, innovative and work closely hand in hand. This is how FAO has built its COVID-19 comprehensive response and recovery programme, and today we are asking you to join us."

Addressing COVID-19 impacts on food systems

Besides being a major public concern, the COVID-19 pandemic can also be a serious threat to global food security. According to the World Bank's estimates, the pandemic's economic impact could push about 49 million people into extreme poverty. Soaring unemployment rates, income losses and rising food costs are jeopardizing food access in developed and developing countries alike and will have long-term effects on food security.

According to the latest edition of FAO's report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, even before the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the global food systems and livelihoods of millions of people at the start of the year, 10 million more people were in a condition of undernourishment with respect to 2018 and 60 million more with respect to 2014. The Global Report on Food Crises 2020 estimates that 135 million people were acutely food-insecure in need of urgent humanitarian food and nutrition assistance.

Furthermore, the pandemic may plunge national economies into recession, and countries ought to take urgent measures to mitigate the longer-term impacts on food systems and food security.

Equally urgent is the compounding threat of the pandemic on existing crises - such as conflict, natural disasters, climate change, pests and plagues - that are already stressing our food systems and triggering food insecurity around the globe. 

The programme's seven key priority response areas

 To minimise COVID-19's damaging effects on food security and nutrition while transforming global food systems to make them more resilient, sustainable and equitable, FAO calls for immediate action in seven key priority areas:

In response to the current emergency, FAO is working on convening governments and multiple stakeholders in a call to action, gathering and analyzing data to better understand emerging trends and pinpoint any deterioration, and providing prompt technical advice and capacity development across a wide range of disciplines. In addition, the Organization is offering investment support to leverage all forms of partnerships and finance.  

The new programme  is also supported by the COVID -19 Food Coalition, launched by the Government of Italy and led by FAO mobilizing political, financial and technical assistance in support of countries affected by the current crisis.

"The efforts needed to importantly address these seven priority response areas will be immense. The Food Coalition is an exemplary approach to leveraging high-level capital and political will to avoid an escalation of the pandemic from a health crisis to a food crisis", said Beth Bechdol, FAO Deputy Director-General.

Today's event also saw the participation of Carla Montesi, Director for Planet and Prosperity, Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO), European Commission; Joachim von Braun, Director of Center for Development Research of University of Bonn (ZEF) and Chair of the Scientific Group for the UN Secretary-General's Food Systems Summit; Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission; Kip Tom, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome; Vincenza Lomonaco, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Italy to FAO; Peter Bakker, President and Chief Executive Officer, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Najat Mokhtar, Deputy Director-General, Head of Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, International Atomic Energy Agency, among others.

The participants in today's dialogue discussed the priority response areas, ways to galvanize joint action and modalities for partnering with FAO in the COVID-19 response for the agricultural sector.