ESPN 27 Apr 2020

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Virtual press conference by Maximo Torero Cullen, Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Development Department, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and, Arif Husain, Chief Economist, World Food Programme (WFP), on the Secretary-General's policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition.

Experts from the FAO and the WFP briefed the journalists in New York on the state of food security, following the launch of the UN Secretary-General's policy brief on the impact of the pandemic on food security and nutrition.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic could push nearly 50 million more people into extreme poverty, this and other dire impacts of the crisis can be avoided if countries act immediately to shore up global food security, according to the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' policy brief.

"Clearly, it is important to recognize that food security is essential for our economy," said Maximo Torero Cullen, Assistant Director-General of the Economic and Social Development Department of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

"The scope of the food economy measured as people is 4.5 billion out of 7.8 billion on Earth," said Torero. "So, it is a huge part of our population that are at risk."

He also said that sixty percent of jobs related to food processing, packaging and transportation, or around 431 million people globally, are at risk because of Covid-19.

Millions were already grappling with hunger and malnutrition before the pandemic. While there is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, more than 820 million people still do not get enough to eat, and numbers no doubt will rise. Meanwhile, some 144 million children worldwide under the age of five are stunted, meaning they are too small for their age, mainly due to malnutrition.

"Covid is compounding the already bad situation to begin with," said Arif Husain, Chief Economist of the World Food Programme (WFP). "For us, what is really, really important is to make sure that we are able to reach people who were in the worst possible state even before Covid came."

Those are mostly people affected by conflict in Yemen, Syria, northeast Nigeria and elsewhere, Husain said, adding that "what we need to make sure is that we are able to reach them regardless of anything, including Covid. Because if we don't, they'll end up paying the ultimate price."

The UN policy brief layed out three main recommendations geared towards saving lives and livelihoods, which also support the transition to a greener future.

First, countries should designate food and nutrition services as essential, while also implementing protections for those who work in the sector. Authorities are also urged to scale up support for food processing, transport and local markets, and to ensure food systems can continue to function by keeping trade corridors open.

Second, social protection systems for nutrition, which includes supporting the millions of children worldwide currently missing out on school feeding programmes need to be strengthen.

And lastly, the Secretary-General called for transforming food systems to achieve a more inclusive and sustainable world. He urged countries to build food systems which address the needs of both producers and workers, and to eradicate hunger by ensuring more people have access to healthy, nutritious food.
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