Food Systems Summit: A View from Uzbekistan

Food Systems Summit: A View from Uzbekistan

In his speech at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev supported the proposals of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, to convene a World Summit on Food Systems in 2021.

About why this summit is relevant and what participation in it will give to our country read in the article of Dr. Obid Khakimov, Director of the Center for Economic Research and Reforms under the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

On national food security from the perspective of the global economy

In a joint statement, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) warned of the dangers of measures to combat the pandemic that threatened global trade and food security.

The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the nutrition of millions of people around the world and could lead to a worsening food crisis. Its cumulative impact, resulting in a global recession, will significantly worsen the already dire situation of hunger and malnutrition in 2020 and 2021.

Before the pandemic, more than 820 million people worldwide were chronically food insecure. According to the latest figures, in 2020 the food security of 135 million people was at a crisis level or even lower. Under the influence of a pandemic COVID-19 by the end of 2020 - of this number could double.

Food security under pandemic pressure

The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a slowdown in the global economy. Therefore, in 2020, the IMF predicts its reduction by 4.9 percent. This is more than during the financial economic crisis of 2008-2009, when world GDP fell by 0.1 percent. In 2021, the economy will start to gradually recover, but most likely, there will be no big breakthrough. World economic growth will be no more than 5.4 percent.

The International Labor Organization estimates that 305 million full-time jobs will be lost in the second half of 2020 (10.5 percent less than at the end of 2019). According to World Bank estimates, 40-60 million people will fall into extreme poverty ( less than $ 1.9 a day per person , half of which are located in the countries of South Asia ), and 90-100 million will be below the poverty line of $ 3.2 dollar per day. Other UNU-WIDER estimates that these numbers are much higher and suggest that around half a billion people worldwide could fall in poverty due to COVID-19.

In 2020, approximately 49 million people also may become extremely poor. It is expected that a decrease in global GDP for each percentage point will entail an increase in the number of children with growth retardation of 0.7 million people. Decline in revenue accompanied with disturbances in the supply chain can cause in the next few months, the rapid increase in the number of people experiencing severe food shortages or serious problems with nutrition.

All these circumstances cannot but cause concern in the world community. Moreover, unlike the food crisis of 2007-2008, the current problem is not food shortages, but access to it.

A food system is a system that encompasses all elements (environment, human resources, factors of production, processes, infrastructure, organizations, etc.) and all activities associated with the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food, and the results of such activities, including socio-economic and environmental impacts.

The global economic deterioration caused by the pandemic is having a negative impact on the food systems of countries, both on the supply and demand sides. The risks of a decline in production and trade, as well as the rupture of established value chains, have increased; labor-intensive production of the food industry, trade and logistics, and public catering enterprises are exposed to significant risks.

Pervasive measures to control or mitigate the impact of COVID-19 outbreaks have impacted global food value chains. In some parts of the world, restrictions on cross-border movement and the imposition of isolation regimes have slowed down the harvesting process, leaving millions of seasonal workers without a livelihood. Obstacles have arisen for the delivery of food to local markets. In many places, meat processing plants and food markets have been forced to close due to outbreaks of COVID-19 among workers. Farmers destroyed perishable products due to failure of supply chains and reduced consumer demand. As a result, in many parts of the world in urban centers, many had limited access to fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, meat and fish.

The situation on the world markets for the main grain crops is still stable. Due to high yields in 2019, significant stocks of most staple foods remain. However, the vast majority of the world's population is supplied with food from local markets, from which supply remains at significant risk. In addition, for many people, access to food is reduced by the loss of a source of income due to rising unemployment and food prices.

The stabilization of food markets is complicated by the fact that a number of countries have limited the export of agricultural and food products, including socially important food products, for food security purposes. For example, Vietnam (one of the top three exporters of rice in the world) suspended rice exports, Kazakhstan - wheat flour, buckwheat and vegetables, including onions, carrots and potatoes, Belarus - buckwheat, onions and garlic, Turkey - lemon. China, the world's largest consumer of rice, has raised purchasing prices for some of its varieties and plans to purchase record volumes to build up reserves. Russia also restricted wheat sales despite demand from key buyers. As a result, the most vulnerable are the poor in low-income countries and many middle-income developing countries that are dependent on food imports.

In addition, major food producers - the United States, China, India and Russia - have refused to join the WTO initiative to keep food supply chains open, remove unreasonable restrictions on food trade, and respect proportionality and timelines for any emergency restrictions.

All these actions have resulted in many countries becoming very vulnerable in ensuring their food security, including ensuring both physical and economic access of the population to food products, and maintaining sustainable food systems. As noted by the Director General of the UN FAO Ts. Dongyu, ineffective political decisions, in particular the restriction of food exports by some countries, can provoke a food crisis and lead to a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe. This state of affairs suggests that the world's food systems are malfunctioning, and the pandemic is only exacerbating the situation.

Thus, the impact of the pandemic jeopardizes the possibility of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 on the availability of adequate nutrition. The 2020 Annual Report, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. Transforming food systems to ensure the financial inclusion of healthy diets”, prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization, states that the world is not on track to meet SDG target 2.1 of achieving zero hunger by 2030. There is an increase in the indicator "Prevalence of malnutrition", which will amount to one percentage point. As a result, if the trend of recent years does not change, then by 2030 the number of hungry people on the planet will reach 840 million, which is 9.8 percent of the population.

Mobilizing the efforts of the world community

Against the backdrop of these growing problems, the announcement by UN Secretary-General António Guterres of the convening of the Food Systems Summit in 2021 is most urgent.

In his address, A. Guterres said that many food systems of the modern world need transformations - in the interests of man, nature, climate and our common future. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed dangerous distortions in the current food systems and jeopardized the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, especially the most vulnerable. The need for transformation was clear even before the onset of the crisis. Therefore, despite record levels of global food production, 820 million people are about to suffer from hunger, and about 2 billion from overweight and obesity, accelerating the spread of nutrition-related diseases. Inadequate nutrition at an early age leads to stunted growth, which in turn impairs mental capacity and decreases academic performance and work performance. Worse than that, nearly half of all infant deaths under 5 years of age are due to malnutrition.

All of this makes the development of new international efforts to ensure food security urgent. Proposal to convene a Food Systems Summit in 2021, which will allow the global community to discuss and develop new mechanisms to ensure food security both in individual countries and around the world.

The main goal of the upcoming summit is to raise awareness and agree on broad commitments and concrete actions to transform food systems to eradicate hunger, reduce nutrition-related diseases.

The UN General Secretary calls on the entire world community to join forces and radically change the approach to the production, processing and consumption of food. This is not just another event, but also an event that will mark a turning point in international efforts to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

Unhealthy diet, including the lack of constant access to sufficient quantities of food of acceptable quality, damages human health. It is not conducive to maintaining health and work in harsh conditions, contact with contaminants in water, soil and air, eating unsafe or contaminated food. At the same time, about a third of the products produced in the world are spoiled or thrown away.

Consequently, only the transformation of food systems to increase their resilience and margin of safety can change the situation in the world for the better.

Agricultural potential of Uzbekistan

Developed and highly productive agriculture is the main condition for ensuring food security of any state. One of the priority directions of the "Strategy of actions for the further development of the Republic of Uzbekistan", adopted at the beginning of 2017, is the modernization and intensive development of agriculture. On October 23, 2019, by the Decree of the President, the "Strategy for the Development of Agriculture of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2020-2030" was approved, which covered nine strategic priorities, the first of which was to ensure food security of the population.

Due to the fact that the development of agricultural production has become of a strategic nature, Uzbekistan has made significant progress in the field due to a significant increase in agricultural production and agricultural productivity. The last three years can be called a period of unprecedented comprehensive reforms in the agricultural sector, including the introduction of market mechanisms and advanced technologies into the sphere and the transition to a cluster production system. Measures were taken to expand the cultivated areas, specialize regions in horticultural production, and unite producers of products in horticultural clusters and cooperatives. As a result, the potential for food production has increased significantly. This is evidenced by the following indicators.

In 2017–2019 the trend of a gradual reduction in the share of agriculture in GDP remained (from 34 in 2017 to 28.1 percent in 2019), which is associated with the further expansion of the potential for the development of industries and services. At the same time, the decline in the share of agriculture in GDP occurred against the background of positive average annual growth rates of agricultural products, which amounted to 1.3 percent and were achieved due to structural reforms and the implementation of measures to modernize and intensively develop the sector. Therefore, in 2019, the growth rate of agricultural production amounted to 102.5 percent compared to 2018. In general, for 2017 – 2019 years gross agricultural production increased 1.5 times, and per capita - 1.4 times (in 2019 prices). At the same time, crop production increased 1.3 times, livestock production - 1.7 times.

In 2019, in Uzbekistan, the volume of foreign trade in food products amounted to $ 2.8 billion or 3.6 million tons, of which about 46 percent accounted for exports, 54 percent for imports. In the structure of imports, 70 percent of the total food imports were: flour (453 tons), potato (282 thousand), sunflower oil (192 thousand), sugar (167 thousand) and palm oil (70 thou with ). The structure of exports was dominated by fruits and vegetables (1.4 million tons or 75 percent of total exports). In particular, it was exported 823 thousand tons of vegetables and 613 thousand fruits.

The high export potential of Uzbek food products is evidenced by the fact that even under the most severe quarantine restrictions Uzbekistan was able to significantly increase its exports. So, according to EastFruit, in the first four months of 2020, the supply of Uzbek vegetables and fruits to the Russian market increased by 42 percent compared to the same period in 2019 and reached $ 25.6 million, which became a record for fruit and vegetable exports. It should be emphasized that there was an increase in "direct supplies". While earlier, a part of vegetables and fruits from Uzbekistan entered Russia in transit through other countries under the products of third countries, and was not even always reflected in Russian import statistics (for example, imports of cherries from Uzbekistan).

In terms of cabbage supplies to Russia in January-March 2020, Uzbekistan ranked second after China, and in terms of lemon supplies - the fourth, after Turkey, Morocco and Egypt. Exports of fresh cauliflower and broccoli in the Russian market increased by 2.3 times, up to 75 percent increase were observed in exports of Uzbek prunes; 5 times increase the export of dried apricots. This allowed Uzbekistan to take second place in the ranking of suppliers of these dried fruits to Russia after Turkey, leaving behind producers from the EU, Tajikistan, Armenia and China. The export of Uzbek frozen fruits to Russia has grown 3 times, and the export of fresh carrots - 3.5 times.

Food policy of Uzbekistan

The state food policy of the country is mainly aimed at ensuring food security through its own production, taking into account the level of income of the population. Own production fully meets the needs of the population of the republic in meat and dairy products, vegetables, fruits and melons, insufficient provision is observed in sugar, vegetable oils, grain and potatoes.

Uzbekistan is one of the few countries that did not restrict food trade during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, during a pandemic, our country was able to successfully mobilize its agri-food sector in order not only to prevent interruptions in providing the population with quality food, but also to use its high export potential in the world food markets. In addition, measures of direct support to the population during the period of quarantine restrictions have mitigated the economic downturn and increased the economic availability of food for the population.

In addition to increasing production volumes and productivity in agriculture, measures are also being taken to improve the food industry management system, in particular, to introduce a system of state support for the production of domestic food products that are competitive in the domestic and foreign markets, with a higher degree of safety. These measures include:

- increasing the volume of processing of fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and other agricultural and food products based on international quality standards;

- creation of conditions for mutually beneficial relations between enterprises producing fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products and other agri-food products with enterprises for their processing, manufacture and sale;

- coordination of work on the uninterrupted supply of agricultural food processing enterprises and exporters with the required amount of high-quality raw materials;

- increasing the production of products in accordance with the requirements of international standards on the basis of the principle "from field to table", expanding the scope of organizations for their processing and export in accordance with these standards, accelerating the certification of export-oriented products;

- creation of modern trade and logistics centers, promotion of the national brand of local food products in world markets, increasing their competitiveness and expanding their export potential;

- organization of exhibitions and fairs in the republic and abroad of products of agricultural, food and processing enterprises, further increasing the presence of domestic products in international markets and attracting world attention to them;

- taking measures for training, retraining and advanced training of personnel with modern knowledge and skills on the basis of "Agrarian Innovation Systems" (AIS) for enterprises growing and processing fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy and other agricultural and food products;

- wide involvement of foreign experts in the field of agricultural production and food production.

Within the framework of the ongoing reforms, measures were taken to create food reserves and ensure macroeconomic stability in the event of a possible threat to the country's food security. All this has become possible both thanks to the systematic and consistent work of recent years, as well as emergency measures during the period of quarantine restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With this began to develop sustainable food system is invulnerable to external shocks and shocks, providing both internal, and external demand for food products.

One of the evidence of the success of the food policy pursued in Uzbekistan is the improved position in the ranking of countries in the world in terms of food security. Thus, the index of food security (The Global Food Security Index), according to the analytical agency The Economist Intelligence Unit, in 2019 Uzbekistan has taken 71 place in the world, rising by 9 positions in comparison with the 2018.

It is important to note that these measures allowed Uzbekistan to achieve significant progress in achieving the National Goals and Objectives for Sustainable Development until 2030 (SDGs), in particular Goal 2. Strengthening food security, improving diets and promoting sustainable agricultural development.

Thus, today in Uzbekistan, the situation with a decrease in the "prevalence of malnutrition" is one of the best in Central Asia. From the aforementioned FAO 2020 Report “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. Transformation of food systems to ensure financial accessibility of healthy nutrition”, if in 2004-2006 years the prevalence of undernourishment in Uzbekistan was 14.9 percent , then by 2017–2019 years this figure dropped to 2.6. For comparison, in Kazakhstan the prevalence of undernourishment is less than 2.5 percent, in Kyrgyzstan - 6.4, in Turkmenistan - 4.

It is noteworthy that the prevalence of wasting in children under 5 years of age in Uzbekistan is only 1.8 percent and this is the lowest rate among the countries of the region (2019). For comparison, in Kazakhstan this indicator is 3.1 percent, in Kyrgyzstan - 2.0, in Tajikistan - 5.6 and in Turkmenistan - 4.2.

In addition, Uzbekistan has made significant progress in reducing the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years of age. E If in 2012 in Uzbekistan, the prevalence of stunting was 19.6 percent, in 2019 this figure already stood at 10.8. For comparison, in Kazakhstan this indicator is 8.0 percent, in Kyrgyzstan - 11.8, in Tajikistan - 17.5 and in Turkmenistan - 11.5.

Expectations from the Food Systems Summit

The disruptions to the world's food systems and the possible intensification of the food crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are challenging governments around the world to transform food systems and are driving new international concerted efforts to ensure food security.

In Uzbekistan, measures aimed at ensuring food security are a priority in the Anti-Crisis Program to support the national economy during and after a pandemic.

At the same time, in the context of a possible aggravation of the food crisis in the world, it is extremely important to quickly rethink the methods of production, processing, marketing and consumption of food products, as well as waste disposal in Uzbekistan. This could be a turning point for rebalancing and transforming Uzbekistan's food systems, making them more inclusive, stable and sustainable.

In this regard, the participation of Uzbekistan in the Summit on Food Systems will continue to improve the national food system as part of a set of priority measures aimed at meeting the immediate short and medium-term needs of people and, ultimately, will serve to ensure its greater sustainability.

It also opens for Uzbekistan and a number of new features. First, the opportunity to expand cooperation with international organizations to implement joint measures in the reorganization of food systems. Second, to participate and contribute to the development of proposals for transforming food systems on a regional and global scale. Thirdly, it will inform the world community about the current policy to ensure food security in the country and share experience and achievements in the successful reform of the agricultural sector. Fourth, to further strengthen the interaction and initiatives to strengthen cooperation between the countries of Central Asia.

The forthcoming collaborative work will bring together the countries of the region, raise awareness and ensure that broad commitments and concrete actions are agreed towards sustainable food systems.

Dr. Obid Khakimov,

Director of the Center for Economic Research and Reforms under the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan

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