Policy Brief: Safeguarding Food Systems in Southeast Asia Amid COVID-19

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Since it was declared a pandemic by WHO on 11 March, COVID-19 has affected nearly 200 countries and territories around the globe. As of 14 June, the total reported cases of COVID-19 globally reached more than 7.6 million with over 420,000 deaths. In Southeast Asia, more than 115,000 people were COVID-19 positive and over 3,000 fatalities were reported. One characteristic of this pandemic is that it has moved from a local health issue to a multisector, economy-wide, global crisis. The impact of COVID-19 is felt everywhere but unevenly. Some segments of the society, particularly the poor, suffer more than the others.

Safeguarding food systems is critical to avoid greater catastrophes. However, situations differ from country to country. Some countries have more COVID-19 cases than the others (see Table 1). Measures imposed by governments, e.g., lockdown and social distancing coupled with unemployment and return of people to rural areas, make it extremely difficult to maintain well-functioning food systems in the region that is home to over 655 million people.

This brief focuses on three broad questions related to food systems in Southeast Asia: i) What are the main challenges for the food systems from the COVID-19 pandemic? ii) How can we safeguard food systems in the short- and long-term?, and iii) What policy measures should be taken to protect food systems?

To answer these questions, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) convened a webinar on “The Future of Food Systems in Southeast Asia Post Covid-19” on 5 May 2020. The seminar was attended by over 700 participants. The speakers were Dr. David Dawe, FAO; Dr. Jiangfeng Zhang, ADB; Dr. Jean Balié, IRRI; and Mr. Grahame Dixie, Grow Asia. The seminar was facilitated…

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