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The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerability of agri-food systems to shocks and stresses and led to increased global food insecurity and malnutrition. Action is needed to make agri-food systems more resilient, efficient, sustainable and inclusive.
The State of Food and Agriculture 2021 presents country-level indicators of the resilience of agri-food systems. The indicators measure the robustness of primary production and food availability, as well as physical and economic access to food. They can thus help assess the capacity of national agri-food systems to absorb shocks and stresses, a key aspect of resilience.
The report analyses the vulnerabilities of food supply chains and how rural households cope with risks and shocks. It discusses options to minimize trade-offs that building resilience may have with efficiency and inclusivity. The aim is to offer guidance on policies to enhance food supply chain resilience, support livelihoods in the agri-food system and, in the face of disruption, ensure sustainable access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to all.
To preserve their functionality and ensure the food security, nutrition and livelihoods of millions of people, agri-food systems must become more resilient to increasing shocks and stresses of diverse origins, both biophysical and socio-economic.
Because agri-food systems are complex – including primary production, food supply chains, domestic transport networks and households – and involve many interlinked actors, a shock in any component can spread rapidly throughout systems.
The fragility of agri-food systems can affect large numbers of people: already 3 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet and an additional 1 billion would join their ranks if a shock reduced their income by one-third. Food costs could increase for up to 845 million people if a disruption to critical transport links were to occur.
Of the five distinct resilience capacities agri-food systems must have – to prevent, anticipate, absorb, adapt and transform – absorptive capacity is critical in confronting unforeseen shocks and is complementary to risk management of shocks that can be anticipated.
Key to building the absorptive capacity of agri-food systems is diversity in food sources (domestic production, imports or existing stocks), diversity of actors in food supply chains, redundant and robust transport networks, and affordability of a healthy diet for all households, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.
Risk management strategies for shocks such as droughts, floods and pests – including multi-risk assessments, timely forecasts, early warning systems and early action plans – are key to help all agri-food systems’ actors prevent and anticipate major disruptions to systems and avoid human suffering and costly recovery interventions.
Enhancing the resilience of food supply chains requires government support to develop small and medium agri-food enterprises, cooperatives, consortia and clusters, as well as social protection programmes.
Resilience capacities of rural low-income households, in particular small-scale producers whose livelihoods are increasingly vulnerable to climate shocks and depletion of natural resources, can be significantly strengthened through education, non-farm employment and cash transfers.
Ensuring economic access to sufficient food for a healthy diet at all times is a key dimension of agri-food systems’ resilience. Policies and investments that reduce poverty, generate decent employment and expand access to education and basic services, as well as social protection programmes when needed, are essential building blocks of resilience.
Building resilient agri-food systems should be a key policy objective and must ensure that all agri-food systems’ components function well over time. This requires mainstreaming resilience in agri-food policies and greater coordination across all relevant sectors and layers of government institutions to ensure policy coherence.