Global food security in the shadow of COVID-19 – Does the solution lie with Israel? [Article]

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing global economic crisis revealed a very troubling fact: the world is unprepared for food security.

The complex global systems that were created in the era of accelerated globalization are threatening to collapse: Leading food producers have placed limitations on the export of agricultural goods from their territory, disturbances and interruptions have been encountered along the entire global supply chains from production in the field, to the international marketing of food, the decline in demand and buying-power due to the global economic recession, shortage of farm-hands and the contraction of disease amongst workers in the food-packing factories.

But what is important to emphasize is that we still have not truly distanced ourselves from the danger of hunger and the interruption in the global food supply mechanisms. At the same time, the phenomena of rising food prices, the lack of foreign currency for purchasing food on the global market, market disturbances etc., continue vigorously.

Tens of millions of people in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and other areas of the world have joined the 820 million people that, prior to the pandemic, were already defined as under-nourished and in danger of hunger or starvation. The World Bank estimates that approximately 40 million people have entered the category of “immediate risk” in western Africa alone. U.N. reports, and first among them, that of the International Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), warn of a rising threat of hunger, and the U.N. called upon the international community to maintain open commerce and to refrain from national protectionist policies.

In its annual report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020, the UN projections show that the world is not on track to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030 and, despite some progress, most indicators are also not on track to meet global nutrition targets. The food security and nutritional status of the most vulnerable population groups is likely to deteriorate further due to the health and socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This situation raises the question of what we can do to prevent a global food crisis which may result in hunger, political and security instability and rampant migration. Without doubt, international trade systems for food and agricultural necessities such as fertilizers, machinery, fuel, etc. must be kept open and functioning. At the same time, states would do well if they increased their local food production capacity. This food, in addition to supplying caloric needs, must be healthy, nutritious and available to everyone and at an affordable price. For this, local farming requires significant incentives and support in order to increase its production and variety.

The State of Israel, having proved itself over a period of decades an expert in successful innovative farming in some of the most challenging desert and drought-prone areas of the world, can be a supplier of quick, efficient and low-cost solutions for these needs. Drip-irrigation is one of the best examples of this. Today most of the agricultural crops the world over are still grown by “dry farming”, i.e. farming that is reliant on rain for field irrigation. Moving to irrigated farming would increase crop yields, would save water and greenhouse gases, and would, over time, create food security. Vegetables, for instance, could be grown a number of times during the year via drip-irrigation as opposed to only once a year when relying on natural precipitation during the rainy season.

“Precise agriculture”, which supplies all plant needs on an almost individual basis, is another example. Today, sensors are capable of informing precisely how much water and fertilizer is required for each tree and from what diseases it is suffering, and accordingly, an individualized treatment, which is often administered via drones or other methods. The use of satellites for information gathering and remote sensing, computerized greenhouses and continuous monitoring of temperature, humidity and pests/insects from afar also increase agricultural crop yields and create more food.

Everyone knows that without water, nothing can be grown, and in arid Israel, unlimited solutions have been found and implemented. Such an example is the use of purified sewage water for farming, or even the use of saline water; leak prevention and/or the identification of their source in water supply systems; and Hydroponics – a form of farming that allows for growing vegetables in water. Water conservation, irrigation monitoring and many other solutions developed in Israel can be implemented relatively easily and at low costs throughout the world.

Knowing the challenges Ghana is facing with food security, the state of Israel has put the agriculture sector at the prime priority of its work in Ghana. Among our activities in the Agriculture sector, Israel has received for the second year a group of 70 agricultural students for 11 months practical training in the ‘Agrostudies’ program. A new group of 70 students will be sent to Israel when we go back to normal. We also continue in our capacity-building programs, but holding them on-line.

Innovation in agriculture is also an important sector to promote and so the Embassy held the maiden edition of the Israel Green Innovation Competition for Start-ups and trained senior officials in the innovation field as we identify Ghana with a conducive environment for thriving innovators in Africa.

Our Trade and Economic Mission is encouraging more investments and more business between the countries in Agriculture. One of such was the GHrowIL Agriculture conference that brought to Ghana 18 Israeli companies to meet key players in the Agriculture sector in Ghana for business. The great partnerships forged at this event have led to bilateral business agreements in diverse areas of Agriculture Technology.

In conclusion, the COVID-19 crisis is still very far from being resolved and we will continue to experience its ramifications in almost every realm of our daily lives. Therefore, it is more important today than ever before to understand the fragility of the global food supply chains, the vulnerability of food security to different sources of disturbance, and to increase local food production in wide-scale. Israel would be both happy and honoured to share its rich experience and knowledge in these areas with anyone interested in learning.

The author is H. E. Shani Cooper-Zubida, Israeli Ambassador to Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone


H. E. Shani Cooper-Zubida

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