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Smarter Food Policy Could Boost Health and Economic Recovery of Asian Cities

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Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of reliable food systems that provide healthy and affordable diets to all. That is true also in Asia where cities, large and small, contend with a wide range of food-related issues on a daily basis but often lack a dedicated or coherent set of food policies.

Arguing that food systems are central to the topmost priorities of Asian cities, from nurturing jobs and businesses that are core to a city’s identity to managing waste and congestion, a new World Bank book calls for cities to “get smart to get RICH”—that is, to pursue policies that foster reliable, inclusive, competitive, and healthy (“RICH”) food systems that are better aligned with cities’ contemporary challenges and aspirations.

RICH Food, Smart City seeks to put food on the menu of urban decision-makers in Asia to generate positive feedback loops between healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy economies,” said Martien van Nieuwkoop, Global Director of Agriculture and Food, World Bank. 

Based on the first systematic survey of urban food policies in 170 Asian cities in 21 countries, undertaken in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the study finds that only 8% of surveyed cities are “food-smart”—intervening in the food system in ways that are forward-looking, holistic, and inclusive. Nearly three-fourths are either at an early stage of effective engagement or fully in reactive mode, responding to problems as they emerge. A reactive approach could prove very costly, both in terms of realized risks and missed opportunities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has served to highlight the essential functions of urban food supply chains and businesses and the vulnerability of urban populations to food insecurity. Even before lockdowns and other responses to the pandemic impacted people’s purchasing power and disrupted supply chains, many residents of cities, especially low-income ones, faced challenges accessing safe, affordable, and nutritious food. In 2016, some 23 percent of urban residents in emerging Asia surveyed by the FAO reported being food insecure. Chronic malnutrition is similarly widespread. More than one-quarter of children under five are stunted in urban Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Lao PDR, Nepal, and Pakistan, indicating that shortcomings in urban food systems could curtail the economic prospects of many Asian cities and their youngest generation.

Moving from a reactive approach to a more proactive management of food systems holds considerable promise for urban policy makers wishing to make progress on issues that matter to citizens, from food safety and affordability to good health, job opportunities, freedom from pollution and congestion, prosperity, and livability. Asia’s growing middle class and its demand for higher quality, more diverse, and convenient foods also provides enormous business, employment and revenue-raising opportunities for cities.

However, risks associated with urban food systems and changing demand patterns will need to be managed carefully. These include risks related to disease, biosafety, and environmental degradation. In 2017, the proportion of deaths attributed to dietary risks reached 30 percent in East Asia, 22 percent in Southeast Asia, and 19 percent in South Asia, according to the Global Burden of Disease. Overweight and obesity levels are growing nationally, and obesity prevalence tends to be three or four times higher in urban areas than in rural ones.

Many cities in emerging Asia are national if not international ‘hotspots’ for biosecurity and food safety risks, food waste, and the accumulation of plastic packaging waste. The rapid encroachment of cities into natural ecosystems and peri-urban cropland also raises risks to cities’ fresh food supply. Well-informed urban leadership is much needed to turn these urban, national, and even broader food system challenges around.

RICH Food, Smart City argues that city leaders and planners have a key role to play in molding the future trajectory of food systems and offers many examples of how they might do so. The study addresses cities of different sizes and resource levels, presents a menu of potential solutions, and provides concrete illustrations of the many policies and programs that Asia’s cities can learn from and implement to improve food system outcomes. For example,

  • Measures to protect peri-urban cropland and develop short supply chain marketing channels can sustain a critical source of fresh produce to cities, contributing to urban productivity, resilience, and circular economies.
  • Investments in upgrading community markets that provide fresh food can help ensure more equitable access to nutrition and reduce the incidence of foodborne and chronic illness.
  • Neighborhood food loss and waste partnerships and initiatives can support waste prevention, secondary food use, composting, and the bioeconomy.
  • Institutional food procurement and marketing standards, paired with technical support to food businesses, can exert significant influence over food markets and dietary patterns in ways that support public health and welfare, the environment, and local economies.

With their power to influence the uses of space and the built environment, to regulate and stimulate private enterprise, and to shape public service delivery, cities’ embrace of food policy can be game-changing, according to the book.

“Municipal leaders are uniquely placed to develop and pursue integrated food policies that respond to citizens’ needs and boost cities’ overall resilience” said Gayatri Acharya, study co-author and Lead Economist, World Bank. “We hope this study will inspire them to seek ambitious solutions for sustainable and healthy food systems that improve the welfare of urban populations.”

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Wide Variations in Post-COVID ‘Return to Normal’ Expectations

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London, UK, Covid-19 restrictions in place in Soho. IMF/Jeff Moore

A new IPSOS/World Economic Forum survey found that almost 60% expect a return to pre-COVID normal within the next 12 months. including 6% who think this is already the case, 9% who think it will take no more than three months, 13% four to six months, and 32% seven to 12 months (the median time). About one in five think it will take more than three years (10%) or that it will never happen (8%).

Views on when to expect a return to normal vary widely across countries: Over 70% of adults in Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, and mainland China are confident their life will return to pre-COVID normal within a year. In contrast, 80% in Japan and more than half in France, Italy, South Korea, and Spain expect it will take longer.

At a global level, expectations about how long it will take before one’s life can return to its pre-COVID normal and how long it will take for the pandemic to be contained are nearly identical. These findings suggest that people across the world consider that being able to return to “normal” life is entirely dependent on containing the pandemic.

An average of 45% of adults globally say their mental and emotional health has gotten worse since the beginning of the pandemic about a year ago. However, one in four say their mental health has improved since the beginning of the year (23%), about as many that say it has worsened (27%).

How long before coronavirus pandemic is contained?

Similar to life returning to pre-COVID normal, 58% on average across all countries and markets surveyed expect the pandemic to be contained within the next year, including 13% who think this is already the case or will happen within 3 months, 13% between four and six months and 32% between seven and 12 months (the median time in most markets).

Majorities in India, China, and Saudi Arabia think the pandemic is already contained or will be within the next 6 months. In contrast, four in five in Japan and more than half in Australia, France, Poland, Spain, and Sweden expect it will take more than a year.

Change in emotional and mental health since beginning of the pandemic about a year ago

On average across the 30 countries and markets surveyed, 45% of adults say their emotional and mental health has gotten worse since the beginning of the pandemic about a year ago, three times the proportion of adults who say it has improved (16%)

In 11 countries, at least half report a decline in their emotional and mental health with Turkey (61%), Chile (56%), and Hungary (56%) showing the largest proportions.

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African fisheries need reforms to boost resilience after Covid-19

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The African fisheries sector could benefit substantially from proper infrastructure and support services, which are generally lacking. The sector currently grapples with fragile value chains and marketing, weak management institutions and serious issues relating to the governance of fisheries resources.

These were the findings of a study that the African Natural Resources Centre conducted from March to May 2020. The centre is a non-lending department of the African Development Bank. The study focused on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in four countries – Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Seychelles. The countries’ economies depend heavily on marine fisheries. The fisheries sector is also a very large source of economic activity elsewhere in Africa. It provides millions of jobs all over the continent.

The study dwells on appropriate and timely measures that the four countries have taken to avoid severe supply disruptions, save thousands of jobs and maintain governance transparency amid the ongoing global uncertainty and crisis.

Infrastructure shortcomings include landing facilities, storage and processing capacity, social and sanitary equipment, water and power, ice production, and roads to access markets.

Based on the findings, researchers made recommendations to strengthen the resilience of Africa’s fisheries sector in the context of a prolonged crisis, and looking ahead to a post-Covid-19 recovery.

The report strongly advocates for:

– Increased acknowledgment of the essential role of marine fisheries stakeholders and the right of artisanal fishermen to access financial and material resources.

– Strengthening the collection of gender-disaggregated statistical data in a sector that employs a vast number of women and youth.

– Establishing infrastructure and support services at landing and processing sites of fishery products, with priority access to water.

– Investing in human capital to ensure high-level skills in the different areas of fisheries management.

– Improving governance frameworks by encouraging the private sector and civil society to participate in formulating sectoral policies and resource management measures.

The study recommends urgent reforms to make marine fisheries more resilient and enable the sector to contribute sustainably to the wealth of the continent’s coastal countries.

Marine fisheries are a crucial contributor to food security and quality of life in Africa. Good nutrition is a key factor to quality of life, and the marine fisheries sector supports the nutrition of more than 300 million people, the majority of whom are children, youth and women. It also provides more than 10 million direct and indirect jobs.

Dominated by artisanal fishing and traditional value chains, the fisheries sector in Africa is mainly informal and is rarely considered in public policies or in assessing the wealth of countries.

Like other sectors, the African fisheries sector has been severely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid has affected supply markets and regional trade. This has resulted in substantial economic losses for most households that depend on fisheries.

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Top Trends Impacting Global Economy, Society and Technology

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The new technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, such as artificial intelligence (AI), the cloud and robotics, are changing the way we live, learn and do business at a rate unprecedented in human history. This seismic shift is playing out in a world characterized by unreliable political landscapes and increasing environmental instability.

Scenario planning in this environment can be very difficult for businesses, affecting their ability to plan for the future, and properly assess the risks and opportunities that may present themselves. The Technology Futures report, released in collaboration with Deloitte, provides leaders with data analysis tools to scenario plan and forecast future technology trends.

“The rapid pace of technological change, alongside the global crisis caused by COVID-19, means that leaders today need new tools to understand challenges and develop strategies in the face of an increasingly uncertain future. This report provides three new analytical tools for business leaders to think about the future in a dynamic environment,” said Ruth Hickin, Strategy and Impact Lead, Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum.

“We are delighted to collaborate with the World Economic Forum to take a disciplined look into the future, particularly as we emerge from a world-altering event, like COVID-19,” said Mike Bechtel, Managing Director and Chief Futurist, US Consulting, Deloitte, and lead author of the report. “We hope that by providing a clearer picture of how today’s nascent technologies will impact our future, we can play a meaningful part in driving innovation, collaboration and economic growth that improves life for all people.”

The report breaks down future trends into four categories for business leaders and provides some examples of what is likely to remain constant in the years ahead.

  • Information: With the volume of accessible data exploding and more of our personal lives lived online, the report projects the probable implications for remote learning, remote working and healthcare.
  • Locality: Since the onset of COVID-19, even more of our interpersonal interaction is virtual and physical experiences have dwindled. The report projects more niche, readily available virtual experiences available to consumers.
  • Economy: The report forecasts a growing likelihood that flexible and clean energy production will continue rising.
  • Education: Personalized education will likely grow, along with the availability of digitized and virtualized content.

In addition to strategic modelling, the report gives leaders a baseline history of how the Fourth Industrial Revolution has progressed. It highlights just how fast technology is evolving and outlines one way risk management could evolve to better address and adapt to it.

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