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Mitigating risks to food systems during COVID-19: Reducing food loss and waste

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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc globally, generating significant challenges that could result in risks to food security and nutrition in many countries. Countries are ordering lockdowns, restricting movement and observing physical distancing to curb the pandemic.

Disruptions in supply chains resulting from blockages on transport routes, transport restrictions and quarantine measures are resulting in significant increases in food loss and waste, especially of perishable agricultural produce such as fruits and vegetables, fish, meat and dairy products. In addition, labour shortages, owing to the restriction of movement of key stakeholders in production and transport, are significantly impacting food supply and demand owing to food shortages in some markets, further contributing to food loss and to the unnecessary waste of food supplies in these difficult times. Upstream segments of the food value chain in middle- and high-income countries have also been severely affected by increased pre- and post-harvest food waste.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, logistical challenges and weather conditions in developing countries often caused high levels of food loss during transport and in markets. The onset of seasonal harvest gluts in these countries could further exacerbate the high levels of loss sustained in the traditional food supply chains in these countries.

Further downstream in the value chain, and particularly in high-income countries, the effort to feed the growing number of those affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic response measures by recovering and redistributing surplus food supplies, which would normally be lost or wasted, are hampered by the difficulty in obtaining the food donations.

Many countries are acting to reduce food loss and waste as part of their efforts to promote food and nutrition security and sustainable development. The challenges brought about by the COVID19 pandemic put these efforts at risk. Public interventions, such as investments or policies to create incentives to bolster efforts to reduce food loss and waste, are essential at this time.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) encourages countries to adopt holistic approaches to tackle food loss and waste reduction, in an effort to facilitate access to food for all and particularly for vulnerable groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.