Covid-19 requires us to rethink everything. Food safety and nutrition – universal goals – are at risk. As fundamental issues for Italy, they are cherished by the UN agencies in Rome – FAO, IFAD and WFP – and must be reconsidered. We know that supermarkets in Italy are well-stocked, but there is no doubt that a protracted pandemic could have an impact on the complex system of food supply chains, involving farmers, food storage and processing systems, transport and more.
Globally, it has become clear that Covid-19 pandemic can also lead to social unrest, such as the dangerous crowd of people lining up for food in African cities, where lockdown has made it difficult for the poorest to get food. This phenomenon is not only present in Africa: the restrictions imposed by the containment measures have affected the social networks of solidarity and protection of vulnerable groups in the world. A problem that affects millions of people.
According to the SOFI 2019 (State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World) report, in Latin America hunger is increasing and afflicting some 42.5 million people, 6.5% of the population in this area. In Africa, according to data released by WFP, at least 240 million people are undernourished (20% of the continental population), the highest percentage in the world. Immediate action must be taken to prevent poverty, dependence on food imports, price increases due to the pandemic and others from creating a fatal short-circuit, with obvious security and migratory repercussions also on our continent.
It is not a question of food shortages, but rather of the problems of the entire food system: distribution logistics, insufficient coordination on border closure regulations, health standards, supply, labour and others. There are also issues of interest for Italy, such as the risk that non-tariff restrictive measures will be imposed on imports of Made in Italy products, which are unacceptable for our country: there is no scientific evidence of virus transmission through food, so labels of the "virus free" type are absolutely grotesque and unacceptable to us.
Italy has always played an important role in this sector: it has propitiated the creation of the Food Coalition, presented by our permanent representative at the International Organizations in Rome, Vincenza Lomonaco. It is a multilateral and multi-sector mechanism capable of creating a network of international solidarity to respond to the critical issues caused by the pandemic in the food sector.
The initiative aims to support FAO in its activities to analyse the impact of Covid-19 on the global food supply system. It also provides a platform for exchange between experts from the public and private sectors and civil society to carry out studies and research on post-Covid-19 scenario. The Food Coalition also intends to build on the existing cooperation between FAO and over 40 Parliamentary Alliances against hunger and malnutrition.
Among the advocacy and analysis activities, I stress that Italy has chaired the Group of Friends of Food Security and Nutrition, an informal group of forty-one countries, since 2018. In these days there was a meeting of the Group of Friends chaired by my counterparts from Canada, Egypt and Brazil, and me, and monitored by our Permanent Representative to the United Nations in NY, Mariangela Zappia.
The participation was high level; the speakers were vice-Secretary General of the UN Amina Mohamed, the Canadian Development Minister Karina Gould, Executive Director of WFP David Beasley, President of IFAD Gilbert F. Houngbo, Special Envoy for the 2021 Food System Summit Agnes Kalibata, among others.
In my opening speech I addressed the risk of a food disaster and the need to develop strategies to avoid it, inviting us to focus on resilient agricultural systems and production chains adaptable to emergency situations. Italy places emphasis on the proper functioning of the agri-food sector during Covid-19 emergency, but also on aid to vulnerable groups and the poor, as well as on the fight against food waste. We will have to face a period of recession, and this requires us, as far as food security and nutrition are concerned, to rethink the management of the food industry on a global level if we do not want to risk unpredictable risky events of both economic and socio-political nature in the world.
From the discussion with experts held within the Group of Friends, many issues emerge, including: the need to focus on the rural world by involving local communities; the urgency to keep global supply chains functioning; the need to find creative economic solutions to meet the demand for liquidity, also thinking about the mechanism of subsidies, as well as to imagine a more flexible financing system that needs to be replanned; the urgency to stop all export restrictions; the commitment to enhance the role of the private sector.
These actions must be sustainable and implemented without distorting the market, encouraging innovation as much as possible. In this sense we must also think about a new model of agriculture that promotes sustainable production chains, through support to small producers and cooperatives, the enhancement of female entrepreneurship and the involvement of local communities.
Italy has enormous experience in this field, and can share its best practices, from organic farming to the protection of the territory and the enhancement of local realities. Many Italian Development Cooperation projects have been focused on agribusiness for years, with great results also in terms of sustainability. We Italians know what it means to have to create resilient food chains, able to withstand shocks such as that of Covid-19.
Food and more. Active as we are on a multilateral level, the Food Coalition offers us an important platform to share, learn and contribute. Food security and nutrition are part of the Italian lifestyle, of the way of thinking, of the Weltanschauung of our country. This universe of values, combined with expertise, in contrast to Covid-19 becomes an added value on which to build our future and that of others, considering that we are linked to the same destiny, which is now very clear to us.