A new Bretton Woods moment
The human costs of the coronavirus outbreak continue to mount, with more than 917,000 people infected globally. The number of people confirmed to have died from the virus has now surpassed 46,000. Covid-19’s proliferation has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, meaning it is spreading rapidly in different parts of the world. 198 countries have confirmed cases so far. Europe became the epicentre of the outbreak in early March. Weeks after entering a strict lockdown Italy, the worst affected country outside China where the virus originated, is on the verge of turning the corner and seeing death numbers begin to decrease. Spain, France, Germany, UK and principally US, meanwhile, are still in the acceleration phase.
We are experiencing a global health crisis unprecedented in modern times, which has spilled over into an economic crisis, and which we fear is likely to spill over into a global food crisis. We understand the economic and health impacts are currently the top priority, but the impact of these momentous events on food systems is inevitable. Millions of people around the world depend on international trade for their food security and livelihoods. As countries move to enact measures aiming to halt the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic, care must be taken to minimize potential impacts on the food supply or unintended consequences on global trade and food security. The initial impacts are already visible and will only intensify as the crisis spreads to more countries, including the most vulnerable developing countries. This will seriously hamper global efforts to deliver on SDG 1 and 2.
As Javier Solana, the EU’s former foreign policy chief, currently recovering from Covid- 19, posted in a recent tweet: “This pandemic should make us think how interdependent we are and make us act accordingly every day.” It’s not idealistic to expect international cooperation in times of crisis. It has been done. Joined up global responses went into full gear during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, with leaders of all the world’s major economies playing a role in helping to tackle the problem.
The first G20 summit was organized in Washington, bringing together the leaders of China, India and other large emerging markets. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank announced over $1 trillion in finance for emerging markets and low- income countries. Coordinated action on trade was taken, with countries vowing not to put up trade and investment barriers. According to the International Monetary
Fund, the coronavirus pandemic will cause a global recession in 2020 that could be worse than that seen during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. European solidarity, already fragilized by discord over migration, faces ever-stronger daily tests. Years of efforts to build the single market and the Schengen border-free area receive fatal blows. Trust between member states erodes further, intra-EU protectionism and restrictions become rife. Brexit negotiations remain in limbo, Europe goes into recession, unemployment and inequality rise. Europe’s populists become louder, using the crisis to further marginalize refugees and migrants.
International cooperation – including the collaborative hunt for a Covid-19 vaccine – is sporadic and erratic. There are some brave attempts at global consultation through a video meeting of the G7 club of industrialized countries and efforts to revive the larger and more diverse G20. South Asian leaders hold a first-ever video conference on Covid-19, encouraging hopes of a revival of the region’s quasi-comatose efforts at cooperation.
Given their references to an ongoing war against Covid-19, European leaders like Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, joined by the three ‘EU presidents’ must do what wise leaders did as the Second World War was ending: organize another ‘Bretton Woods moment’ devoted to building a revised and more inclusive system of global economic governance. Start working now on building a more powerful global partnership. Spearhead a much-needed global financial-humanitarian rescue plan to help countries which do not have the national capacity, the money or the medical personnel to deal with Covid-19 and/or other health emergencies. Industrialized nations need to help workers in the gig economy. In developing countries it’s the daily wage earners who are being hardest and will continue to suffer for years to come.
Food crisis, Security and Peace. For a UN Food coalition.
Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market. Such reactions can alter the balance between food supply and demand, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility. We learned from previous crises that such measures are particularly damaging for low-income, food-deficit countries and to the efforts of humanitarian organizations to procure food for those in desperate need.
High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition confirmed that “the COVID-19 pandemic is already affecting food systems directly through impacts on food supply and demand, and indirectly through decreases in purchasing power and in the capacity to produce and distribute food, which will have differentiated impact and will more strongly affect the poor and vulnerable.” Currently limited problems with both food supply and demand could intensify within weeks as more countries go into lockdown, key fruit and vegetables come into season, and some countries impose
food export restrictions. FAO expects that as of April or May there will be disruptions in food supply chains. Millions of people throughout the world are losing their employment, including food and hospitality workers, meaning that as their incomes reduce their access to food will be compromised. In the case of the millions of migrant agricultural workers, their inability to work also impacts food supply, particularly for labour-intensive, high-value and nutritious crops such as fruits and vegetables. Nutrition is further likely to be affected as consumers increasingly rely on processed foods which in many cases are less nutritious.
Food systems are not just impacted by the coronavirus, they may also be drivers of infectious diseases. In recent years, scientists have identified a consistent pattern whereby biodiversity loss tends to increase pathogen transmission and disease incidence. Almost half of the zoonotic diseases that have emerged in humans since 1940 resulted from changes in land use, from changes in agricultural or other food production practices, or from wildlife hunting.
A paradox of global hunger is that, despite their activity, smallholder farmers in the rural areas of developing countries are disproportionately at risk of food insecurity themselves, with low incomes a major reason for that. It would be tragic if that problem were to be exacerbated, and their ability to produce food reduced, at a time when we are trying to make sure that food supply remains adequate for everyone. So policy makers must pay attention to them. What we know – and we saw it during lockdowns in West Africa during the Ebola crisis – is that restriction of movements and road closures curb farmers’ access to markets both to buy inputs and sell products. They also reduce the availability of labour at peak seasonal times. The result is that fresh produce can accumulate without being sold, leading to food losses, while those who grow it lose income.
Both the epidemic itself and the resulting economic crisis, and possible food crisis, are global problems. They can be solved effectively only by global co-operation. In the “Q&A COVID-19 pandemic impact on Food and Agriculture”, published recently by FAO, some useful recommendations to the Member States have already been identified.
In this sense in order to respond to the recent Appeal of the UN Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez, we need to build new multilateral and comprehensive actions to establish an international mechanisms promoted by FAO with WFP and IFAD, in order to implement an urgent and coordinated strategy aimed at providing all Governments with action guidelines. Just like it happened in recent past epidemics such as HIV, Ebola and SARS, the role of FAO remains essential to stimulate measures to protect the most vulnerable ones and to keep supply chains in operation. In this sense is more
then welcome the Italian proposal to FAO to establish a “Food Coalition” composed by experts, scientists, scholars and stakeholders – first of all to be identified among those countries which are currently in the forefront of the emergency management – which could support FAO experts to identify the different impacts of the pandemic on agriculture and nutrition (for example, urgent measures and social assistance, establishment of food banks to draw on for supplies, creation of international solidarity networks for interventions in agriculture, studies on the impact of COVID- 19 on world food systems ). This could be also the right path to develop a mid- and long-term response based on this comprehensive analysis; identify which food and production systems are most resilient to the crisis and the right way to support the Committee on World Food Security to fulfill its mandate as the UN body mandated to deliver a coordinated global policy response to food crises. It could represent the right strategy being underway in the UN to manage the potential impact of the pandemic on global peace and security.
Innovation and debureaucratisation
it has forced us to re-evaluate our approach to globalization. Many of the widespread assumptions held about the international system have been called into question. The impact of the virus throws into sharp focus that there is no such thing as a nation- state in full and sovereign control of its finances, trade and supply chains – it has effectively blown out the water arguments used by the populist governments and those spouting the rhetoric of ‘taking control’ of our borders, laws and economies. Even though countries are putting up their borders – the virus has shown it is borderless. It has exposed the reality of global, continent-wide and pan-regional supply chains – and how all economies rely on these.
‘Going it alone’ does not work. The crisis has laid bare that a unilateral approach is bound to fail. It has reinforced the need for multilateralism and improved global working arrangements whether that be in terms of digital, science, inter-regional cooperation or security. It has also revealed the poor and weak state of many current global and regional governance or cooperative mechanisms. International data- sharing is no longer optional. The response to COVID-19 demonstrates that ‘data sovereignty’ is already an obsolete, meaningless concept. As crises will continue to hit the world in quick succession, what is clear is that whether it’s in the field of science, health, security or social planning, finding a critical path to data-sharing is an urgent, strategic and global necessity. Without this, responses to crises will continue to hit and adversely affect the poorest, be it through delay, poor information management or the absence of a holistic economic, social and technological approach across borders. Perhaps a key lesson to emerge from this crisis is how to enable leaders, officials and public administrations to be more agile, work outside silos and to develop
a leadership capability that is actually able to handle, manage and lead in times of crises. The countless management theories, books and training clearly don’t fill what is an obvious vacuum in leadership development in a crisis. What is now required is a more real-time, scenario-based learning style, which can help with preparedness. Future leaders will need to tackle dilemmas in the nexus of public safety, continuity of services and access to essentials whilst managing and abating the downward spiral of an economy.
We are living in a crucial time. As Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus recently said: What would the post Corona world be like? Most likely that the world will have a new birth. The new-born world may not look like the world that we know now. It is strange to think that we will be facing an unfamiliar world within about a year — global framework will change, people will change, institutions will change, most importantly, the thinking of the world will be changed”. The only sure thing is that the way we act now together will determine our post-Covid-19 future.