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High Level Panel 1: FAO

How innovation can help strengthen the sustainability of food systems and prevent future pandemics

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Time: Tuesday, 19. January 2021, 11:00 -12:00 (CET)
Languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, Spanish

Panel guests will be announced soon


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all sectors of the global economy. On food and agriculture, the combined effects of restrictions in the movement of people and goods have affected markets in both developed and developing countries. Access to food will also be negatively impacted by unemployment and income loss due to the pandemic. The pandemic brought about a change in the approach to agri-food systems and raised important questions on how we produce, process, distribute, trade and consume our food.

Innovation is key in keeping agri-food systems functioning, and can play an important role in supporting the recovery process. Innovative policy responses to the pandemic included the establishment of special channels allowing the delivery of perishable nutritious foods to affected populations under appropriate health, hygiene and food safety conditions but it also opened a window of opportunity to implement the institutional and governance changes needed to enable the environment for innovation. 

Innovation uptake was accelerated as a result of COVID-19. The use of digital technologies and e-commerce speeded up dramatically during the pandemic, with online food purchases increasing significantly.  In global markets, the use of electronic phytosanitary and/or veterinary certificates for import consignments also increased, facilitating the trade of safe and nutritious foods.

A second important response is that the COVID-19 pandemic emphasizes the need to prevent zoonotic viral spillover events in settings where community transmission might rapidly exceed the capacity to control infection. The risk is highest where there is close interaction between wildlife and intensifying livestock or agricultural production, and is often exacerbated where agriculture has encroached upon or put pressure on natural ecosystems.

Preventing dangerous spillovers – and future pandemics – involves significant innovation in working with those communities living in high-risk hotspots, where medical, veterinary and animal production services are limited and food safety control systems are ill-equipped to prevent, detect and respond to emerging and resurgent zoonotic diseases. Experience indicates that a community based, One Health approach in tropical forest settings can also assist to sustain livelihoods and assist ecosystem restoration and reduce deforestation.

Considering the all-of-society impacts of the pandemic, there have been many calls for stronger Governance of One Health, at every level; at national levels, through “One Health” Ministries or Commissions, and at global level, through more support, and Governance, and engagement with environmental sectors in the One Health Tripartite (FAO, the World Health Organization [WHO] and the World Organization for Animal Health [OIE]). Application of the One Health approach has potential to prevent the emergence of new zoonotic reservoirs from the current COVID-19 pandemic and to propose targeted interventions to tackle future pandemics, but also to contribute to wider goals relating to ecosystem restoration and sustainable food systems.

The panel will bring together a group of high-level policy makers to have a focused discussion around the impacts of the pandemic on food and agriculture. The high-level dialogue will be guided by the following proposed preliminary questions:

  1. How can innovation foster global food security during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  2. Which types of innovation has your country put in place to cope with the pandemic?
  3. In which ways can innovation in the broad food and agriculture sector support the post-pandemic recovery?
  4. How can the application of digital technologies and the One Health approach to agricultural and environmental planning contribute to preventing further pandemics?

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