When a pandemic hits, questions that instantly come up embrace what influence there shall be on public well being, the economic system and different facets of society. One other set of questions entails response priorities for governments and households.
Meals is central to each units of questions. On the one hand, entry to enough, nutritious meals is threatened. On the opposite, specializing in meals presents promising pandemic response choices.
Studies from varied international locations spotlight issues concerning the influence of COVID-19 and pandemic response measures on meals provides, whether or not on account of shortages, worth rises or money constraints. Even in wealthy international locations, nervousness about doable shortages has led to stockpiling, whereas large-scale job losses are leaving many anxious about their capability to afford meals.
In some creating international locations, the spectre of starvation looms. In July 2020, Oxfam reported that COVID-19 was deepening starvation in present hotspots whereas creating new hotspots. It additionally advised the pandemic may very well be “the ultimate straw” for a lot of. These within the casual economic system are among the many hardest hit, notably individuals dwelling in city areas who use most of their day by day earnings to purchase meals.
A latest World Meals Programme report advised COVID-19 is deepening international meals insecurity, because the pandemic’s financial influence provides to pre-existing meals safety challenges. It estimated 272 million individuals are meals insecure as a result of aggravating results of the pandemic. In a subsequent interview, the WFP director voiced fears that thousands and thousands have been “marching in the direction of hunger”, citing the pandemic as a key trigger.
Over the previous few years now we have been engaged in analysis on meals safety, agriculture, public well being and atmosphere within the international South. Our insights lead us to imagine that whereas a pandemic can clearly threaten entry to meals, specializing in meals additionally presents two distinct methods to minimize the dangers confronted by households and international locations.
Dietary change as a response possibility
Dietary change might provide scope to enhance individuals’s capability to deal with COVID-19, because the potential of diet to help immune resistance to viruses is well-established. One overview of medical trials underlined the scope for diet to stop or handle viral infections and really useful utilizing it to restrict the influence of COVID-19. One other overview paper echoed this name.
The World Well being Organisation (WHO) has sought to harness this potential by issuing dietary pointers for the COVID-19 pandemic. These stress the significance of consuming sure meals, corresponding to contemporary fruit and veggies, entire grains, beans, fish and unsaturated fat. In addition they urge lowering consumption of others, corresponding to processed meals, salt, sugar, and saturated fat like these present in fatty meats or butter.
Two years in the past the Lancet Fee – a high-level physique of specialists from 16 international locations – really useful the same weight-reduction plan which they known as the “wholesome reference weight-reduction plan”.
This weight-reduction plan was devised based mostly on rigorous evaluation of accessible proof as a way to deal with present issues with poor diet and unsustainable agricultural manufacturing. This evaluation advised adjustments to weight-reduction plan and manufacturing may create “win-win” outcomes for each human and planetary well being.
The dietary adjustments advised by the WHO and the Lancet Fee would require main shifts in dietary habits in most international locations, elevating questions concerning the accessibility of their goal meals. Worryingly, one examine means that such a weight-reduction plan may very well be unaffordable to most of the world’s poor. One resolution can be to boost entry to a nutritious diet by fostering native manufacturing of goal meals.
COVID-19 creates a chance to revamp farming techniques to ship each a spread of wholesome meals and resilient, sustainable manufacturing. The pandemic creates area for such shifts, between the emergency spending it necessitates and the popularity it brings of the necessity for change.
Redesigning farming techniques
Adjustments that would assist ship each well being and sustainability embrace built-in, species various farming techniques and diminished use of agro-chemicals. Governments may help such a shift through good subsidies to steer manufacturing in the direction of sustainable practices and wholesome meals. This might additionally assist guarantee these meals can be found and inexpensive.
One promising strategy that could be a rising pattern is producing meals in city and semi-urban areas as a coping technique. This has been discovered to have large potential advantages as a meals supply for communities hit by the pandemic whereas additionally delivering different necessary advantages like decrease meals miles and creating employment, notably for the poor.
Coverage can present an enabling atmosphere to scale up such practices.
Some pertinent questions on how meals is produced aren’t addressed within the suggestions of both the WHO or the Lancet Fee. These embrace:
Do meals produced utilizing applied sciences like genetically modified organisms and development hormones pose dangers to well being?
Do natural meals provide more healthy alternate options?
Do extra pure manufacturing practices promise higher sustainability and resilience to local weather change?
These questions bear asking given the mounting proof on opposed results of standard input-intensive farming, for instance on insect populations.
Meals and pandemic resilience
The approval of a number of vaccines has raised hopes that the COVID-19 pandemic may be arrested. But vaccination will take time. Notably, the pinnacle of the UN humanitarian company has predicted poorer international locations are unlikely to make main progress on vaccination earlier than 2022. In the meantime, the latest emergence of mutant variants raises troublesome questions, corresponding to how the efficacy of vaccines may be affected.
Given this actuality, guaranteeing good immune system perform is essential. This underlines the necessity for schemes to foster wholesome consuming. For now, nevertheless, meals insecurity tragically stays a difficulty for a lot of, and entry to wholesome meals is a selected downside.
Schemes to foster native manufacturing of nutritious meals are due to this fact additionally wanted. Any initiatives on weight-reduction plan or native manufacturing may have relevance past the COVID-19 pandemic through boosting the well being and resilience of communities.
Such measures can be notably related for Sub-Saharan Africa, the place meals insecurity is a serious menace, COVID-19 circumstances proceed to rise, and entry to healthcare is proscribed.
Dietary change and native manufacturing provide hopeful responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The out there proof suggests these measures may bolster individuals’s well being and well-being whereas additionally constructing their resilience to pandemics. They might due to this fact complement public well being and medical measures like social distancing and vaccination, and benefit higher consideration.