Policy Seminar: Collaboration and Information Both Key to Preventing Food Crises: Post-Webinar
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From the COVID-19 pandemic to persistent conflict to desert locust outbreaks, populations around the world have faced severe challenges to food security in 2020. The number of people suffering from chronic hunger is forecast to increase from 690 million in 2019 to as many as 822 million by the end of the year. A recent IFPRI Policy Seminar examined how the newly upgraded Food Security Portal (FSP), funded by the European Commission (EC), can provide critical food security-related data, information, and risk monitoring to help governments and other stakeholders increase the resilience of food systems and cope with ongoing and future food crises.
The event was moderated by Teunis van Rheenen, IFPRI Director of Business Development and External Relations & Acting Chief of Staff. Conrad Rein, EC Policy Officer and Co-Chair of the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development, gave opening remarks to officially launch the upgraded FSP. According to Rein, the FSP’s open access nature and innovative tools have made the portal a global public good, particularly in the face of COVID-19.
Rob Vos, Division Director of IFPRI’s Markets, Trade and Institutions Division, provided a short history of the FSP for context surrounding how stakeholders can improve information systems to predict and prevent food crises. He then presented an in-depth look of the revamped FSP, highlighting several important innovations to improve food crisis risk monitoring.
The FSP’s Excessive Food Price Variability Early Warning System was launched in 2010 in response to the 2007-2008 global food price crisis. During this time, food prices for many staple commodities showed extreme volatility, which drove market uncertainty and negatively impacted both producers and consumers. Vos pointed out that with the onset of COVID-19, there was great concern over whether the world would see similar food price volatility; the FSP’s volatility tool allowed researchers to track daily price movements for several major commodities and has given little indication of excessive variability.
The upgraded FSP also includes an expanded Food Price Watch, which incorporates daily, weekly, and monthly global prices for nine major commodities, and a COVID-19 Price Monitor, which tracks the reaction of local prices of six important staple foods in India, Guatemala, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to providing these and other innovative data and policy analysis tools, the upgraded FSP also aims to act as a hub for other early warning and food crisis risk monitoring tools and reports and to provide a platform for policy dialogue and capacity development. (Read more about how the FSP continues to use data and information to advance food security research and policymaking.)
Vos concluded by officially launching the FSP’s new e-learning training courses, highlighting the sub-portal focusing on Africa (English and French), and inviting participants to visit and share the upgraded FSP. “As the old adage says, ‘You cannot manage what you cannot measure,’” Vos said. “With the Portal, we try to contribute to the management of food security with better information, analysis, and tools.”
The event then moved to presentations from several panelists. Arif Husain, Chief Economist at the World Food Programme (WFP), spoke to his direct experience with food crises and the need for up-to-date information to help manage them. Like in previous crises, such as the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the need for data, information, and answers regarding food security did not stop in the face of COVID-19 lockdowns. However, Husain said, the WFP considered themselves lucky because they had been improving and scaling up the use of new technologies like mobile phones for data collection and risk monitoring since 2012. Because of this experience, when the COVID-19 experience struck, the WFP was able to continue collecting critical data from almost 40 countries.
Husain went on to highlight the benefits of collaboration with other information systems that provide timely data, near-real-time monitoring, and relevant policy analysis, such as the Food Security Portal.
“I’m a fan of connecting silos,” he said. “And this Portal is an amazingly good silo to which we are going to connect . . . It reduces duplication of information but also exponentially increases access to our information.”
Next, Jessica Fanzo, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Global Food & Agricultural Policy and Ethics at Johns Hopkins University presented on the importance of data and information for improving diets and nutrition. Fanzo focused on the Food Systems Dashboard, which was launched in June 2020 and incorporated important lessons learned from the experience of the Food Security Portal.
As food systems gain more attention in the policymaking world, linking the transformation of these systems to other development outcomes, such as nutrition, has become increasingly important. However, data regarding food systems is often spread across multiple sources, and many policymakers struggle to make informed decisions about their country’s food systems, Fanzo said. The Food Systems Dashboard aims to fill these gaps by mapping over 170 indicators measuring elements of food systems. drivers, and outcomes.
However, Fanzo pointed out, “The question is, how much are these [portals] used to aid in decision-making, especially in crisis situations?” Important issues remain to be addressed by the FSP, the Food Systems Dashboard, and future information portals, including gaps in data or outdated or closed data, lack of easy-to-understand visualizations, and lack of sub-national context to make data more useful at the local level.
“The more tools, the better,” Fanzo concluded, “because it allows for decision-makers to . . . get a full picture.”
Ousmane Badiane, Executive Chairperson of Akademiya2063, then shared progress from the CAADP framework, the Malabo Declaration, and the Montpelier Panels in terms of monitoring food security indicators.
“We are gearing all our efforts to helping African countries, all 55 of them, hold each other accountable to measure progress around an agenda they’ve committed to work on together,” Badiane began.
As a result of this agenda, the CAADP’s interactive tracking platform focuses on very specific indicators, including seven indicators focusing on the agricultural agenda and 40 sub-indicators. The platform updates data related to these indicators on at least a regular basis to assist member countries in monitoring their own and others’ progress. In addition to its web-based tracking platform, the CAADP framework also utilizes a mandatory continent-wide biennial review, an interactive data entry and evaluation platform, and country joint sector reviews.
Badiane concluded by suggesting that the CAADP platform could further collaborate with the FSP to provide the portal with enhanced access to local data, as well as to embed the FSP in policy processes within Africa to more closely link the FSP’s work with regional and national developments.
Finally, Máximo Torero, Chief Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), addressed how monitoring systems can help to prevent food crises. Torero was also one of the original designers of the Food Security Portal at its initial launch more than 10 years ago.
Torero identified five significant changes in data trends in recent years: emphasis on timeliness, geographic disaggregation, quality of both data itself and its interpretation, response to user demand, and analysis. He emphasized that these trends are all important in determining how well platforms like the FSP can provide early warning of food crises.
“We don’t have predictive power right now,” Torero said. “We can see more or less when a situation is getting worse . . . But for situations of food crisis, we need to combine many dimensions. It is not an easy job.”
Torero also discussed challenges related to enhancing and coordinating information-sharing among food security early warning experts in order to disseminate their knowledge to a broader audience. This will help platforms like the FSP provide better information and guidance to aid policymakers in minimizing food crisis risk and building resilience.
“We have a lot of tools that are very helpful, but I think what COVID-19 has shown us is that we need to do a lot more and we need to find ways to manage today’s enormous information flows.”
The seminar concluded with a Q&A session and closing remarks from Philippe Thomas, Head of Sector for the EC’s Food and Agricultural Systems, Crisis and Resilience group, regarding the EC’s ongoing support for multiple collaborative early warning systems, including the Food Security Portal.
“There is no competition between the different systems,” Thomas emphasized.