Farm to forkCombatting increased food insecurity caused by the combination of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ukraine crisis and the climate change
The European Union (EU) and South Asian countries have come together to devise strategies to cope with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and extreme weather conditions caused by the climate crisis on food availability. Disruption on global food supply chains can lead to hunger, malnutrition and obesity in communities around the world.
Alternatively, agriculture is energy intensive with a sizeable carbon footprint. Current food production, transport and processing methods are one of the largest contributors to global warming with 21-37% of greenhouse gas emissions attributed to food chains.
The EU-South Asia meeting ‘Farm to Fork’ in New Delhi included officials from five South Asian countries including Nepal, India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh held dialogue with the EU on soil health and organic production, sustainable use of pesticides and antimicrobials, and food loss and waste.
“Promoting the shift towards healthy, sustainable diets has to be done through collaboration. The food system is everyone’s business,” said Atul Upadhyay of the Food Scientists and Technologists Association of Nepal, adding that cross-border cooperation in the region was the way forward to effectively address the problem.
Koen Van Dyck of the Bilateral International Relations at the EU Commission agreed: “We have to work together, exchange information and build alliances: the need for global action is clear."
Nepal made some dramatic strides in reducing childhood and maternal malnutrition in the last two decades. Stunting in particular decreased from 57% in the 1990s to 36% in 2016. But the progress has since stalled. Stunting needs to be well below 15% in 10 years to meet the global target -- it is still 36%.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the climate change have added to the problem. While the former has meant reduced income to afford nutritious food, the latter has led to reduced productivity, if not crop failures due to unreliable precipitation patterns. Now, the Ukraine crisis has increased the cost of commodities , including fuel and food.
Given the rise of new infectious diseases and volatile geopolitical tensions, the solution may lie in developing sustainable food systems which goes beyond the means of production and also addresses nutrition challenges such as undernutrition and hunger, say experts.
'These challenges persist while new and multiple forms of malnutrition rise. In particular, food-borne non-communicable diseases such as cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular conditions put pressure on people and health systems,' reads an EU statement.
The food system also needs to take into account land degradation or food loss that ultimately affect how food is produced, processed, transported and consumed. Which is why, diversifying diets can be a key driver in the change to sustainable food systems, says Jamie Morrison, senior policy advisor at GAIN (Global alliance for Improved Nutrition) Bangladesh.
While Bhutanese officials stated the need of transforming subsistence farming to a commercial system where rural income is improved and increased, Sri Lanka on the other hand put an emphasis on organic farming.
“The niche market of organic products should be developed not only for export, but also for the domestic market. Organic farming is happening on a small scale and we encourage those who want to do it," said Malathy Parasuraman of the Ministry of Agriculture in Sri Lanka.
Parts of Nepal have carried out organic farming with a varying degree of success. But most agree that the organic approach is profitable in the longer run, healthier and also sustainable, once it has reversed the damage caused by the rampant use of harmful chemical pesticides.
Says Shahidur Rashid of IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) in India: “We must not leave this to future generations: food systems are a complex concept and a much bigger challenge than the green revolution in the 1950s and 60s.”