The “urgency of strengthening” agri-food system capacities around the world to endure shocks “cannot be stressed enough”.

Countries need to make their agri-food systems “more resilient to sudden shocks of the kind witnessed during the Covid-19 pandemic”, according to a new report published this week by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN.

This year’s ‘The State of Food and Agriculture’ (SOFA) report is entitled ‘Making agri-food systems more resilient to shocks and stresses’.

It provides an assessment of the ability of national agri-food systems to respond to or recover readily from shocks and stressors. It also offers guidance to governments on how they can improve resilience.

There are approximately three billion people who cannot afford a healthy diet, with the FAO estimating that an additional one billion people would join their ranks if a shock reduced incomes by one-third.

Moreover, food costs could increase for up to 845 million people if a disruption to critical transport links were to occur.

The report defines shocks as “short-term deviations from long-term trends that have substantial negative effects on a system, people’s state of wellbeing, assets, livelihoods, safety and ability to withstand future shocks.”

Examples include extreme weather events and surges in plant and animal diseases and pests.

Ongoing and future challenges for agri-food system

Based on the evidence of the report, FAO recommends that governments make resilience in agri-food systems a strategic part of their responses to ongoing and future challenges.

“The key here is diversification – of input sources, production, markets and supply chains, as well as of actors – since diversity creates multiple pathways for absorbing shocks,” the FAO said.

“Supporting the development of small and medium agri-food enterprises, cooperatives, consortia and clusters helps maintain diversity in domestic agri-food value chains.

“Another key factor is connectivity. Well-connected agri-food networks overcome disruptions faster by shifting sources of supply and channels for transport, marketing, inputs and labour.”