Five stark COVID-19 warnings from the agriculture R4D sector

20 May 2020. By Francesca Billington. The agricultural Research for Development (R4D) sector is becoming increasingly relevant as potential crises loom. Some key warnings are surfacing from recent dispatches, reports and events across the CGIAR and around the globe. Here are five for us to heed:

1. Food supply chains and markets in the developing world are at risk
Researchers across centers predict food price increases, particularly locally for some vegetables and other perishables, as a result of transportation and value chain bottlenecks. And globally for some staples because of short-term and medium-term export restrictions that some countries have put in place. 
2. Now more than ever, we need nutritious food
Healthy diets are essential for building a strong immune system. But the economic crisis induced by COVID-19 is driving demand for fruits, vegetables, and animal-sourced foods down, writes IFPRI. This affects poorer households, especially women and children, most: “In the face of drastic declines in income, vulnerable households will quickly give up nutrient-rich foods in order to preserve their caloric intake.” Not to mention, disrupted supply chains can cut access to nutrient-dense foods.

3. Expect inequality to widen without comprehensive protection efforts
COVID-19 has the potential to widen gender inequalities. (…) Social distancing and lockdown procedures are affecting both rural and urban communities, causing issues ranging from gender-based violence to interruptions in public health plans. For many slum households in India, the responsibility to make money and support the family has fallen to women, often exposing them to unsafe environments. And basic sanitation is not accessible to many living in developing countries. 

4. Protect biodiversity and nature or we’ll see more – and worse – outbreaks
There’s a clear link between biodiversity loss and the rise in zoonotic diseases — a recent Scientific American piece explores how humans might be “creating the conditions for the spread of diseases” by cutting the natural barriers between virus hosts and themselves, says one disease ecologist. The era of infectious diseases is certainly not over, and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) says Africa is catching up to Asia (ILRI) as a hotspot.

Scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) note that COVID-19 is just the most recent example of diseases that spread from animals to humans, and preventing the next one demands we safeguard biodiversity.

To better consider these linkages, experts are pushing for the One Health approach, which integrates human health, animal health, and ecosystems health — three systems often considered and studied in isolation from one another. This method encourages collaboration across sectors to drive solutions at the intersection of human and environmental health. ILRI is currently studying transmission patterns of diseases between livestock, humans, and wildlife, as well as the role environmental change has in disease incidents.

5. We won’t turn the corner without innovations, transformations, and R4D

The world is facing unprecedented challenges, and experts across the R4D sector are unifying to find solutions. While some answers have been developed and await implementation, others must be discovered. R4D is committed to focusing on the interlinked goals of COVID response, recovery, and food system transformation. 

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