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Measures by Oman, GCC help ease pandemic impact on food security: FAO

SUPPLY DISRUPTION: The world has gone 'off-track'” in its commitment to achieve zero-hunger: Dr Nora Ourabah

Oman and fellow member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have adopted far-reaching strategies to support their national food security objectives in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to the Sultanate of Oman.

Addressing a virtual conference on the importance of agri-nutrients for global food security, Dr Nora Ourabah Haddad (pictured), said the Gulf states had put in place concrete measures to secure their national populations’ food requirements at the outset of the pandemic threat.

The two-day forum was organised by Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA) last week.

“In anticipation of potential food supply disruptions in April 2020, the GCC countries adopted a Kuwaiti proposal to create a unified Gulf Food Security Network. This was about setting up special arrangements at border controls and customs posts covering the movement of basic foods and medical supplies,” said the FAO Representative.

Additionally, GCC governments took steps to diversify food import sources, support trade facilitation, and strengthen agricultural, fisheries and aquaculture production.

Measures were also initiated to smooth transportation of commodities from production to consumption areas. Further, the establishment of e-agriculture and ecommerce platforms also enabled linkages between producers, on the one hand, and traders and consumers on the other, she said.

Referring to measures implemented by the Sultanate, in particular, the official cited the Omani government’s decision, early on in the crisis, to allocate about RO 10 million for the procurement of basic commodities. Supply of potable water to local populations was strengthened, while the water requirements of industries were met as well. In other measures, agriculture and fisheries production was ramped up, private investment in R&D encouraged, and the benefits of new technology development extolled.

At a global level, however, the Covid19 outbreak did have a devastating impact on the food situation in many parts of the world, said Dr Haddad.

“The pandemic has crushed the global economy, generating a dual shock both on the supply and demand side, and threatening food security. In fact, even though there is enough food for everyone in the world, accessing it is another issue. It’s not a given!” she lamented.

Citing recent FAO statistics, the official warned that the world has gone “off-track” in its commitment to achieve zero-hunger.

“We still have almost over 800 million in the world going to bed hungry, which is an unfortunate situation made worse by the pandemic. The high cost of healthy diets, coupled with persistent high levels of income inequality, has put healthy diets out of the reach of close to three billion people in the world,” she said.

Thus, in addition to food supply disruptions unleashed by the pandemic, the attendant global economic downturn led a surge in job losses that in turn, “triggered a food crisis induced by lack of income”.

Besides, food diets became less diverse as many people survived mainly on staples and less on fruits and vegetables and meat and dairy products.

These poor diets are likely to contribute to higher rates of malnutrition, especially in medium and long-term, with women and some minority group expected to be disproportionately penalised, the FAO Representative stated.

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