An open letter to UN, G20, and national governments on COVID-19 impact on food security
Djoomart Otorbaev et al.
A high-tech agricultural industrial park in Abuja, Nigeria, August 29, 2019. /Xinhua

A high-tech agricultural industrial park in Abuja, Nigeria, August 29, 2019. /Xinhua

We are writing to call for a set of internationally coordinated, locally relevant actions to address the medium- and longer-term impacts of COVID-19 on agriculture, food, and nutrition security.

The current global health crisis has disrupted supply chains and laid bare the need to address the inter-related challenges of hunger, malnutrition, climate change, and environmental degradation and has emphasized the need for concerted, proactive and collective actions to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in 2015.

We agree with much that is in the strong statements issued by several leading international entities, including the IMF, World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), the Food and Land Use Coalition, and the GCARD Road Map by the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), the International Dryland Development Commission (IDDC), and the Malabo-Montpellier (MaMo) Panel, among others.

On-going research and development at leading institutions like Wageningen University, the Consultative Group for International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) and Associaton of International Research and Development Centers for Agriculture (AIRCA), dialogues organized by the World Food Prize, and many others are nudging the world toward the right direction.

Many of these international and regional efforts concerning policy analysis and advocacy agree on the urgent need to strengthen International Agricultural Research and Food Security Systems. We reaffirm these suggestions and want to emphasize the urgency of real action globally on the ground.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is a major public health crisis, food systems around the world are also under great stress. Consumers are paying higher prices, supply chains are disrupted, children are deprived of school feeding programs and families who rely on food assistance are struggling. Farmers have lost their markets and are worried about harvesting their current crop and planting for the next season.

Some governments have responded to the crisis with export bans and import restrictions, which can exacerbate price swings and trade tensions that were already high before the COVID-19 outbreak. Governments must keep trade flows open with sensible export and import policies. Others have responded with humanitarian actions and have tried to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of the food supply chains.

While these efforts have been laudable, they are not at the desired scale. We need to re-build resilient local and regional supply chains based on diversified local food systems and sustainable natural resource management.

Concerted actions are urgently needed to ensure crops can be harvested and planted in the coming months and establishing efficient food collection and distribution systems that can deliver nutritious food to hungry people, especially women and children. And while short-term actions to address the crisis are vital, we must also address several long-term implications of the crisis for global food systems.

Children play in drought-hit fields in Macheke, Mashonaland East Province, Zimbabwe, March 10, 2019. /Xinhua

Children play in drought-hit fields in Macheke, Mashonaland East Province, Zimbabwe, March 10, 2019. /Xinhua

Achieving the SDGs will require actions on the agriculture and food security fronts, and such actions should be at local, national, regional and global level through a well monitored and coordinated approach.

Before COVID-19 struck, many countries were lagging in attaining the SDGs. COVID-19 will push those efforts further behind, and thus many countries need to reconsider how best to provide for the food and nutrition security of their populations in the event of long-term supply or demand side disruptions due to public health and its economic effects, while still thinking of environmental and climatic factors.

Unfortunately, research on these interlinked challenges continues in the silos of environment, agriculture, economics, and public health. We now need more transdisciplinary research to develop more resilience of our agricultural and food security systems in the medium term.

Climate change and the disaster risks it portends has not gone away, even if it has been crowded out of the media headlines by the COVID-19 crisis. But COVID-19 has demonstrated a profound impact that human activities have on our environment. Greenhouse gas emissions are declining; water and air quality are improving; birds and wildlife are returning to forsaken habitats.

But we recognize that the economic and social costs of the abrupt economic shutdown are not acceptable over the long term, yet it is an opportunity to re-emphasize the importance of conserving natural resources, especially agro-biodiversity, increasing carbon sequestration, improving soil health and water quality, generation of renewable energy, scientific eco-regional planning, efficient water and nutrient use, diversification, greater dependence on locally available plant-based food systems, etc. These would demand a paradigm shift in national priorities.

Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) are essential in addressing COVID-19 and other global threats and challenges. The revolution in ICT and in biology can help re-imagine the food and agricultural systems to provide food security to the poor, and to transform the sector by reducing its environmental and climate footprints.

Disruptive innovations are needed to increase productivity and income though precision farming and timely delivery of inputs to farmers' fields, through a "More from Less" approach. Research should also help bring new technologies to markets, including "out-of-the-box" ideas such as meats from single cell proteins to biofuels from algae; from accelerated fish farming to improved livestock breeding to plant-based proteins. Such frameworks should enable rapid movement from "lab to land" and from "farm gate to consumer plate."

Nutrition is important to all human beings at all points of the life cycle. For women, health is a human right; their access to good nutrition is fundamental to ensuring good health and underpinning empowerment. In addition, entire families benefit from the realization of women's right to health; the children of women who are well nourished will be healthier, and those children will avoid stunting and wasting and be able to grow into more active, healthier, and productive young people.

Supporting nutritious food and agricultural systems also ensures household nutrition security. The medium and long term COVID-19 response must ensure that the needs of all women, men, and children are met, including those who are most marginalized.

People carry food rations donated by the World Food Program (WFP) at the Malakal Protection of Civilians site in Malakal, South Sudan, June 19, 2019. /Xinhua

People carry food rations donated by the World Food Program (WFP) at the Malakal Protection of Civilians site in Malakal, South Sudan, June 19, 2019. /Xinhua

The disruption of input supplies will affect agriculture adversely for the next 6 to 24 months. Urgent action should start now to ensure that adequate credit and agricultural inputs (seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides) are available when and where needed to strengthen the ability of the farmers to deliver.

Transportation, storage and distribution systems need to be enhanced, including the capacity to change production systems to meet shifting demands.

The international community must help the poorest countries with actions on the ground. The World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Program (WFP), the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the regional Development banks have all played – and continue to play – important roles in supporting agriculture and food security.

Bilateral donors and regional organizations such as the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) also have a major role to play. Together they have operational presence in well over 130 countries and can mobilize action for a better future.

The CGIAR can enhance the global research system in working on bringing greater resilience to the Food Security system, and enhanced partnerships with National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS), the private sector, and NGOs.

The UN will be holding the Food Systems Summit in 2021. This will be a major opportunity to craft a well-organized global effort to address these challenges.

To ensure that the best practices of the few become the standard practices of the many, and that real partnerships for implementing actions on the ground are forged between all governments and the regional banks, bilateral agencies, the private sector, NGOs, and the international organizations to support farmers and consumers in all countries.

Finally, it is our firm belief that by acting collectively for the common good, motivated by our recognition of our common humanity, and driven by caring and compassion for the poorest and the weakest among us, we can help human society overcome the multi-faceted challenges to the agricultural and food security system brought on by the pandemic, and place society on a much stronger and more sustainable path of growth and balanced development.

The time for action is now.


H.R.H Prince Hasan Bin Talal of Jordan;

Rashid Alimov, Secretary General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization 2016-2018;

Abdulaziz Altwaijri, former Director General ISESCO;

Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister of Pakistan 2004-2007;

Sali Berisha, President of Albania 1992-1997, Prime Minister 2005-2013;

Jean Omer Beriziky, Prime Minister of Madagascar 2011-2014; Wided Bouchamaoui, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2015; Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the UK 2007-2010;

Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand 1999-2008, Administrator of UNDP 2009-2017;

Herman De Croo, Minister of State of Belgium, Honorary Speaker of the House;

Emil Constantinescu, President of Romania 1996-2000;

Mirko Cvetkovic, Prime Minister of Serbia 2008-2012;

Susan Elliot, CEO, President Committee on American Foreign Policy; Jan Fisher, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic 2009-2010; Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius 2015-2018;

Nathalie de Gaulle, Founder of Societer & NG-INOV;

Noeleen Heyzeer, Under-Secretary-General of UN 2007-2015, Member of the UN Secretary-General's High Level Advisory Board on Mediation;

Mladen Ivanic, Member of the Presidency of the Bosnia and Herzegovina 2012-2017; Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation 2004-2014; Gjorge Ivanov, President of North Macedonia 2009-2019;

Ivo Josipovic, President of Croatia 2010-2015;

Mats Karlsson, VP of the World Bank 1999-2011;

Shigeo Katsu, former Vice President of the World Bank, President of the Nazarbayev University;

Kerry Kennedy, President Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights;

Jadranka Kosor, Prime Minister of Croatia 2009-2011;

Ivo Komsic, Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina 1993-1996;

Chandrika Kumaratunga, President of Shri Lanka 1994-2005;

Zlatko Lagumdzija, Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina 2001-2002, deputy Prime Minister 2012-2015;

Yves Leterme, Prime Minister of Belgium 2008, 2009-2011;

Tzipi Livni, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel 2006-2009, Minister of Justice 2013-2014;

Budimir Loncar, Minister of Foreign Affairs of SFR Yugoslavia (1987-1991);

Justin Yifu Lin, Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank 2008-2012;

Petru Lucinschi, President of Moldova 1997-2001;

Rexhep Meidani, President of Albania 1997-2002, Member of the Academy of Sciences;

Stjepan Mesic, President of Croatia 2000-2010;

Peter Medgyessy, Prime Minister of Hungary 2002-2004;

Amre Moussa, Secretary General Arab League 2001-2011, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt 1991- 2001;

Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta 2013-2020;

Rovshan Muradov, Secretary General NGIC;

Bujar Nishani, President of Albania 2012-2017;

Djoomart Otorbayev, Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan 2014-2015;

Roza Otunbayeva, President of Kyrgyzstan 2010-2011; George Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece 2009-2011; Ana Palacio, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain 2002-2004; Rosen Plevneliev, President of Bulgaria 2012-2017;

David Pan, Executive Dean Scwarzman College, Tsinghua University;

Petre Roman, Prime Minister of Romania 1989-1991, Speaker of Parliament 1996-2000;

Ismail Serageldin, Co-Chair NGIC, Vice President of the World Bank 1992-2000, former Chairman CGIAR;

Laimdota Straujuma, Prime Minister of Latvia 2014-2016;

Petar Stoyanov, President of Bulgaria 1997-2002;

M.S. Swaminathan, Founder Chairman M.S Swaminathan Research Foundation;

Boris Tadic, President of Serbia 2004-2012;

Eka Tkeshelashvili, deputy Prime Minister of Georgia 2010-2012; Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, Goodwill Ambassador of UNESCO; Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Co-Chair NGIC, President of Latvia 1999-2007; Filip Vujanovic, President of Montenegro 2003-2018;

Carlos Westendorp, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain 199501996; Yashar Yakish, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey 2002-2003; Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2006;

Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine 2005-2010;

Kateryna Yushchenko, First Lady of Ukraine 2005-2010, President Ukraine3000 Foundation;

Valdis Zatlers, President of Latvia 2007-2011

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