after covidMay 27, 2021. Even before COVID-19, food systems faced serious challenges in achieving equitable access to healthy, nutritious food for all and resilience to shocks. The COVID-19 pandemic, affecting rich and poor countries throughout 2020 and continuing today, makes addressing those challenges an even more urgent task. It remains clear that dramatic transformation is needed, to more efficient, healthy, inclusive, sustainable, and self-reliant food systems. In Eurasia and beyond, smallholders, women and children, and other marginalized people have had their food security and livelihoods threatened by COVID-19. With rising populations and environmental strains, more shocks should be expected and prepared for. These topics and more were addressed in the 2021 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) , discussed today at the Virtual Event - Transforming Food Systems after COVID-19: Implications of the 2021 Global Food Policy Report for Eurasia.

“The COVID-19 pandemic yielded lessons and triggered creativity in actions and thinking. A global sense of urgency and willingness to think beyond traditional barriers, combined with major international summits in 2021, creates an unusual opportunity to make reforms possible,” said Johan Swinnen, director general, IFPRI.

The event was jointly organized by the Eurasian Center for Food Security (ECFS) at the Lomonosov Moscow State University, the World Bank, Westminster International University in Tashkent (WIUT), the Armenian National Agrarian University, and IFPRI.

IFPRI’s annual flagship report highlights the critical role that inclusive food systems can play in maintaining food and nutrition security, looking specifically at obstacles and opportunities as well as the tools and technologies necessary for building inclusive food systems. The 2021 report focuses on insights gained from countries’ experiences with COVID-19. Despite economic growth and increasingly strong food systems in recent years, the pandemic has exposed the fragility of progress made so far. To remain resilient during hardship and future shocks, Central Asian countries need to accelerate structural reforms to promote competition, business-friendly environments, labor mobility, and productive formal sectors.

The report suggests that efficient integration with regional trade partners like Russia and China are important. Regional trade yields economic growth for the whole region, while policy harmony and planning across borders will limit harm caused by shocks. The need for regional cooperation was made clear during the pandemic, when Central Asian economies suffered due to decreased remittances from migrant laborers. “Declines in remittances to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan were comparable to those resulting from the 2015 Russian financial crisis, but remittances to Uzbekistan appeared to be relatively resilient,” said Roman Romashkin, deputy director of the Eurasian Center for Food Security (ECFS) at Lomonosov Moscow State University. “Special policies and procedures should be developed to promote labor mobility within countries and across the region, especially during crises,” added Romashkin.

Central Asian countries responded to the pandemic with a variety of policy measures. These included limits on population movement and public gatherings, measures to mitigate negative impacts on household welfare and food security such as wage and unemployment support, and fiscal measures like financial stimulus. The measures were effective but costly. As the dust of the pandemic settles, countries should invest in information and communications infrastructure to benefit agrifood value chains and food systems transformation. “The governments of the region are facing two immediate challenges: firstly, to meet increased spending needs and secondly, to finance these additional public expenditures sustainably. How policymakers will navigate these challenges will significantly affect economic and social outcomes in the future,” said Kamiljon Akramov, senior research fellow, IFPRI.  

The past year has been unquestionably difficult, but the lessons learned, globally and within the Eurasian context, are immensely valuable. Never before have countries been so universally tested, with strains put on almost every sector and supply chain. The research community can contribute to recovery and preparation for future shocks by analyzing the efficacy of policy measures, developing technologies, and fostering cooperation between stakeholders. In this regard, “it is important to have public support for applied policy research that helps address challenges and problems of food systems transformation in the Eurasian region in the aftermath of the COVID-19,” said Sergey Shoba, director, ECFS at Lomonosov Moscow State University.

For more information on the report, visit: http://gfpr.ifpri.info/

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The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI was established in 1975 to identify and analyze alternative national and international strategies and policies for meeting the food needs of the developing world, with particular emphasis on low-income countries and on the poorer groups in those countries. www.ifpri.org

The Eurasian Center on Food Security (ECFS) at Lomonosov Moscow State University seeks to promote food security in Central Asia and South Caucasus, considering the importance of economic and social stability of these regions for the Russian Federation. The Center develops expertise, performs analytical work, undertakes research using in-house and outside resources, performs educational activities, and coordinates intergovernmental research and development studies. https://ecfs.msu.ru/index.php/en/