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COVID-19 Threatens to Undo Decades of Progress in Eradicating Poverty, Official Says, as Second Committee Takes Up Agriculture Development, Food Security

With the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change exacerbating world hunger, speakers emphasized the need to boost agriculture, empower farmers, preserve biodiversity and protect ecosystems, as the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) took up agriculture development, food security and nutrition today.

COVID-19 threatens to unravel decades of progress in eradicating poverty and hunger, said Alexander Trepelkov, of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, noting that the number of people suffering from acute food insecurity is set to double in 2020 to over 265 million.  Prior to the pandemic, nearly 690 million people — about 9 per cent of the world’s population — suffered from hunger, which could surpass 840 million by 2030, he said, introducing the Secretary-General’s report on “Agriculture Development, Food Security and Nutrition”.

Outlining the enormous potential in food systems to unlock multiple benefits, Mr. Trepelkov emphasized the need to diversify production and empower agriculture workers.  Moreover, the world must protect the vital role healthy ecosystems and biodiversity play in maintaining sustainable and resilient food systems, increasing resilience to climate change, shocks and hazards.

Belize´s delegate, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, similarly stated that the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging food security, nutrition and climate resilience, noting that food imports in her group could increase to $8 or 10 billion by 2020.  Noting the problem of over-reliance on foreign markets and open borders, she added that local food production is threatened by climate stress, natural hazards, heavy reliance on food imports and a limited number of economic sectors.

Likewise, the representative of Myanmar, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly disrupted agricultural economies in her region, stating that climate change, land and water resources degradation and deterioration of ecosystems have also led to food shortages.  Stressing the importance of international cooperation with a range of stakeholders, including the United Nations, the private sector and civil society, she underscored the importance of the Food System Summit to be convened by the Secretary-General in 2021.

Eritrea’s delegate similarly stressed the need for international assistance, expressing alarm at a potential rise in food prices during the COVID-19 pandemic.  As in many countries, the directive to shut down restaurants, cafes and public canteens has resulted in reduced demand for agricultural produce.  Further, the COVID-19 situation has come amid an ongoing desert locust invasion, which has caused significant damage to crops and vegetation across the countries in Eastern Africa.

Addressing agricultural solutions, Malawi’s delegate, speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries, said agricultural systems will need to undergo a vast transformation in becoming more resilient to climate change and other shocks.  Calling for strengthened climate resilience, including flood and drought resilient high-yield seeds, he stressed the vital role of global cooperation in building agricultural infrastructure as well as improving storage and food processing techniques.

At the meeting’s onset, Jamie Morrison, a director in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, briefed the Committee on the Secretary-General’s Food Systems Summit to be held in 2021.  The Summit will be a vital means of sharing knowledge and experiences, identifying investment and innovation areas, and offering solutions integrated in multiple food systems, he said.

Also speaking were the representatives of Guyana (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Kazakhstan, India, China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Algeria, Mozambique, Maldives, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, El Salvador, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Zimbabwe, Guatemala and Sri Lanka.  A representative of the Holy See also made a statement.

The Second Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 19 October, for a dialogue with regional commissions.

For information media. Not an official record.