The Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), QU Dongyu, has urged leaders from the G20 (Group of 20) countries to take measures for global food systems to continue to work well, particularly in relation to access to food for the world's poor and most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Qu made his appeal in an online address from Rome to the G20 Extraordinary Virtual Leaders' Summit on COVID-19, held on March 26.
Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud chaired the summit which was called to forge a coordinated global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its human and economic implications.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting food systems and all dimensions of food security across the world," Qu said. "No country is immune."
"We have to ensure that food value chains are not disrupted and continue to function well and promote the production and availability of diversified, safe and nutritious food for all," he said.
The Director-General said lockdowns and restrictions on movement could disrupt food production, processing, distribution and sales, both nationally and globally, with the potential to have an "immediate and severe" impact on those restricted by mobility.
"The poor and the vulnerable will be the hardest hit, and governments should strengthen social safety mechanisms to maintain their access to food," he said.
Qu said global food markets are well supplied but there is growing concern and that measures should be taken to ensure that both national food markets and the world market continue to be a transparent, stable and reliable source of food supply.
Referring to the 2007-08 global food price crisis, the Director-General said uncertainty at that time triggered a wave of export restrictions by some countries, while others started importing food aggressively. Qu said this contributed to excessive price volatility, which was damaging for low-income food-deficit countries.
As economic activities slow down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, access to food will be negatively affected by income reductions and loss of employment.
"We need to make sure that agricultural trade continues to play its important role in contributing to global food security and better nutrition," Qu said.
"Now, more than ever before, we need to reduce uncertainty and strengthen market transparency through timely and reliable information."
FAO and the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), which was launched by the G20 in 2011, will continue to monitor food markets and provide timely information, so that everyone can make informed decisions.
The G20, is an international forum for the governments and central bank governors from 19 countries and the European Union (EU), that was founded in 1999 with the aim to discuss policy pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability.