The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has released a paper that recommends increasing opportunities for sustainable operations, production, trade, and handling of food along the supply chain to minimize harm to both farmers and the environment. The paper proposes using Voluntary Sustainability Standards (VSS) to facilitate transparency and traceability in the production of agri-foods, and argues that combating social inequalities and reducing environmental degradation is critical to achieve food and nutritional security.
The paper titled, ‘Build-Back-Better from COVID-19 with the adoption of Sustainability Standards in Food Systems,’ examines the socioeconomic drivers and barriers of globalization and trade in food systems. The paper states food system activities undermine biodiversity, contributing to land degradation and soil loss, loss of species, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, air pollution, and other challenges. In particular, the paper stresses, without sufficient adaptation measures, climate change “will negatively impact food production in many areas.” Therefore, sustainable agricultural practices will be key in ensuring future food supplies for an increasing population while also minimizing impacts on the environment.
The paper recognizes the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges in the global distribution of food. The paper reflects on supply challenges related to confinement measures, transportation, and logistics; “protectionism direction” that impacts the import and export of food products; farm production implications that impact food supply productivity; and labor shortages and shutdowns. Bottlenecks for farm inputs, such as seed and pesticides, the authors argue, are affecting smallholder farmers in developing countries. In East Africa, for instance, locust swarms have disrupted food production, and COVID-19-related logistics bottlenecks have delayed the provision of means to protect crops. This situation could result in a food security shock in rural areas while also increasing prices for food crops, further exacerbating shocks on those with reduced incomes. The paper cautions all of these challenges could postpone the climate-related global agenda, worsening the already concerning environmental situation. Demand challenges include food availability, pressure on food standards, and risks of higher food prices as a result of COVID-19.
The challenges outlined in the paper impact sustainable development in a number of ways. Supply chain delays and restrictions on movement, for instance, can increase the risk of food waste, and food waste negatively impacts the environment because the inputs invested in producing and harvesting the wasted food have themselves been wasted. Further, rotten food produces methane, increasing GHG emissions. From an SDG perspective, these supply chain delays can have a negative impact on SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) and SDG 13 (climate action), among others. Food disruptions may also result in income instability for farmers – SDG 1 (no poverty) – and impact their access to nutritious food and food security overall, compromising SDG 2 (zero hunger). The report concludes the impact of COVID-19 on the agri-food supply chain and beyond “demonstrates precisely the dire need to advance the 2030 SDGs.”
The paper therefore stresses the importance of targeted COVID-19 economic recovery strategies that incorporate the SDGs, and underscores the role of trade in fostering economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. According to the authors, sustainability standards offer an opportunity for governments to address sustainability in international trade and supply chains. They recommend mainstreaming VSS for agriculture as an opportunity to advance the SDGs, and outline ways to institutionalize farmers’ and producers’ support systems, environmental protection, and inclusive economic growth in support of this approach. [Publication: Build-Back-Better from COVID-19 with the Adoption of Sustainability Standards in Food Systems]