2020 Global Food Policy Report: Emerging challenges of building inclusive food systems in South Asia

Share this to :

By Rebika Laishram

In South Asia, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the largest disruption of livelihoods in history, affecting over 1.7 billion people. The region faces a severe economic contraction that is likely to reverse the recent pace of improvement in social and economic well-being. Building more inclusive food systems will be key to supporting vulnerable populations.

To address many of the long-standing issues underpinning food insecurity and poverty, IFPRI-South Asia, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and the Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS), hosted a virtual launch of IFPRI’s 2020 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) on July 6, presenting its highlights in a South Asian context.

“Building an inclusive food system is not only a matter of economics but also has a moral imperative,” said IFPRI Director General Johan Swinnen. “An inclusive food system is a social value proposition, as it has the potential for integrating the poor and marginalized into food supply chains, enabling them to escape poverty, improving nutrition, and thereby, reducing national and global inequalities.”

The GFPR highlights the central role that inclusive food systems play in meeting global goals to end poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, and offers recommendations for four marginalized groups: Smallholders, women, youth, and conflict-affected people. The report also provides analytical case studies of national food system transformation in several countries, including Bangladesh and Ethiopia, and advice on this process for different regions worldwide.

“Can we leave food systems to the markets forces alone?” asked IFPRI-South Asia Director Shahidur Rashid, presenting highlights of the report’s South Asia chapter. “We simply cannot because we know the invisible hands of markets are incapable of ensuring a food system that is efficient, sustainable and inclusive.”

He added, “In South Asia we need to shift our thinking from feeding the poor with cereals to feeding the poor with safe and nutritious food, which calls for the introduction of fortification in safety nets and biofortification in agriculture.”

Rashid also emphasized the importance of integrating a food system approach into national agricultural research systems, developing infrastructure and human capital for effective food safety institutions, and investing in incentives for food industry development.

Regional perspectives

Experts from Bangladesh, Nepal, and India gave insights on regional aspects of inclusive food systems. They also highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the lives and livelihoods of people living in South Asia, leading to food and nutrition insecurity.

“The report is being launched timely, especially when we are grappling with a global pandemic. In South Asia, many people live below poverty line and are extremely vulnerable to the shocks of COVID-19. Estimates of the studies conducted in Bangladesh have shown that due to COVID-19, poverty level which used to be 24.3% have gone up to 35%,” said Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue in Bangladesh.

Sudha Narayanan, a Professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, shared some of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 lockdown in India. “The Indian food system is remarkably resilient, but it is extremely vulnerable with large sections of poor people,” she said, adding innovations to build more inclusion should focus on bringing nutritious and healthy food to the rural markets.

Swarnim Wagle, Chairman of the Institute for Integrated Development Studies in Nepal, outlined some of that country’s challenges. “I am suggesting a three-pronged approach for Nepal’s food systems. It is important to view food systems through the lens of incentives and revamp the subsidy regime, introduce well-targeted social protection programs, and there must be greater use of the digital tools for transfer,” said Wagle.

Nepal is a landlocked country, and investment in hard infrastructure will help to connect markets and farms. Investments in soft infrastructure are also essential for reducing child malnutrition and cognitive deficiencies.

Photo Credit: IFPRI’s Johan Swinnen, Rasha Omar of IFAD, Purvi Mehta of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Swarnim Wagle of the Institute for Integrated Development discuss the implications of the 2020 Global Food Policy Report for South Asia.

Share this to :