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COVID-19: An opportunity to speed up the transformation of agri-food systems

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Climate-smart agricultural practices can increase the resilience of Latin American production systems to avoid food crises caused by climate change or pandemics. 

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for resilient, sustainable and evidence-based food systems, through which the increase of poverty in the world can be prevented and vulnerable groups such as small farmers, women and youth, among others, can be helped to recover from the global health emergency.

In a virtual event, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) in Latin America, together with experts from the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (the Alliance), the International Potato Center (CIP) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), discussed how climate-smart agriculture (CSA) can help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Latin American agri-food systems.

The current situation presents an opportunity to speed up the transformation of food systems in Latin America. In a climate change context, food production must become more resilient to ensure the income of rural families and food for the general population. Similarly, economic measures aimed at the recovery of different sectors must seek environmental, social and economic sustainability. This will be key to a sustainable and successful recovery after the health emergency. 

Climate-smart agriculture is crucial to make our food systems sustainable and resilient; the post-COVID-19 economic recovery is an opportunity to transform and strengthen the agricultural sector and rural families along a path of sustainability."

Deissy Martínez Barón, Regional Program Leader, CCAFS Latin America 

Decision-making support for the agri-food sector during the pandemic

CSA options being implemented now in the agricultural sector in Latin America will allow farmers to increase the resilience of production systems and continue food production during and after the health emergency to continue to provide food, even in the case of an adverse climate event. The pandemic has affected the agricultural sector on different scales, from labor and access to inputs, to mobilization and demand for food. COVID-19 added to the set of vulnerabilities that farmers must take into consideration when making decisions about their crops.

In this context, the Local Technical Agroclimatic Committees (LTACs), an approach that provides the agricultural sector with agroclimatic forecasts to make informed decisions about their crops, are playing a fundamental role during the health emergency. Firstly, thanks to the monitoring carried out by the institutions participating in the committees, it is possible to identify income reductions in rural families, in which territories there are shortage issues, difficulties in access to inputs or decapitalization of farmers or rural families. On the other hand, in the agro-climatic bulletins, recommendations have been included to implement CSA practices according to weather behavior and to avoid contagion during agricultural activities so that they can continue with production.

Small farmers of important crops such as corn and wheat in Mexico and Guatemala are affected by lack of income, a decrease in remittances, the lack of supplies and the decapitalization of their crops. At CIMMYT, they believe it is important to ensure that the entire value chain of wheat and corn production continues to function to ensure they reach final consumers. Therefore, community seed banks, organic inputs, conservation agriculture and the digitalization of the agricultural sector are some of the practices that have been implemented during the crisis to ensure sustainable food production while reducing environmental impact.

Preparing for the future

Thousands of voices around the world are calling for action to build more sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies. In this sense, CIPs’ proposal is to bet on agrobiodiversity by incorporating it into climate risk management strategies and from there promoting healthy diets, changes in consumer behavior and digital innovations for market access. Crop diversification, monitoring of planting areas and climate services will be key to taking advantage of the biodiversity of the Andes, an area where CIP research is concentrated, through different strategies of adaptation and mitigation to climate change that will ensure a change in the recovery of food systems.

A transformation of agri-food systems becomes vital in order to avoid a food and climate crisis in the era of COVID-19. While the agricultural sector has so far responded well, we must take action now to prevent future food insecurity from being caused by climate change and aggravated by pandemics.

Find all the presentations of the event here.

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