Leading researchers across health, nutrition and agriculture have launched a new COVID-19 hub to consolidate existing scientific evidence and support response, recovery and resilience measures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned recently, immediate action on food systems is needed to prevent a global food emergency that could have long-term health effects.
The Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) COVID-19 Hub, coordinated by CGIAR, the world’s largest publicly funded agricultural research network, in collaboration with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), will bring together the latest science on agriculture and health to inform a research-based response to the pandemic.
The Hub will compile relevant work from across the CGIAR System and partners around the world, as well as share future breakthroughs and identify opportunities for new research.
Around two-thirds of CGIAR’s existing research portfolio is already directly relevant to tackling the coronavirus outbreak. The work of most immediate relevance encompasses four research pillars: (i) Food systems; (ii) One Health (the human-animal-environment health interface); (iii) Inclusive public programs for food security and nutrition and (iv) Policies and investments for crisis response, economic recovery and improved future resilience.
These priority areas align with the UN’s call to action on food systems to prevent the worst effects of the pandemic by addressing its potential impacts on poverty, hunger and nutrition, as well as by taking the opportunity to “build back better” for a healthier and more sustainable future.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing weaknesses in food systems, societies and economies around the world,” said Elwyn Grainger-Jones, Executive Director of the CGIAR System Organization.
“The current crisis presents an unprecedented opportunity for humanity to ‘build back better’ – particularly as regards more resilient and inclusive agriculture. CGIAR will join its network of more than 3,000 partners to co-lead global debate and action on what ‘building back better’ looks like for food, water and land systems.”
Since the virus emerged, CGIAR is pivoting its focus to help countries cope with the impact of COVID-19 on food systems and food security. In Bangladesh, for example, CGIAR is working with local partners to monitor food, labor, input, supplies and prices, and to advise on appropriate policies, with an emphasis on minimizing the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable members of society.
At a global level, CGIAR is also working with UN agencies and development partners, for example, to carry out phone surveys to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on rural households’ livelihoods and access to food.
“Solutions need to be science-based and coordinated across sectors to provide immediate response and assistance for those most in need, ongoing and inclusive support in recovery, and – perhaps most importantly – future resilience to all shocks, including climate extremes,” Grainger-Jones added.
The pandemic broke out as CGIAR was undertaking a major institutional transformation. A newly integrated leadership and Board in place this year will support the level of collaboration required for an integrated global and country response.
“As well as research across four priority pillars, CGIAR will also focus on innovations to support recovery, including country-by-country ‘deep dives’ with COVID-19 impact modeling and analyses, and ‘One Health’ risk-based approaches to agriculture-environmental management and emerging zoonoses,” said John McDermott, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which will host the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub.
In the longer term, CGIAR will widen its focus to build greater resilience of food, land and water systems to prevent future outbreaks and reduce vulnerabilities.
The LSHTM’s contribution to the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub will build on the current work of the Centre for Health Economics In London (CHIL) and the Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases (CMMID).
“Supporting national efforts to address the health and economic challenges of COVID-19 will require connecting prediction of disease scenarios under different mitigation strategies with their social and economic outcomes,” said Anne Mills, the LSHTM’s Deputy Director and Provost, and Professor of Health Economics and Policy.
“LSHTM is pleased to work with CGIAR in cross-sectoral research to provide evidence for coordinated health, economic and food policy decision-making in low- and middle-income countries.”