Accelerating SDG progress in the time of a pandemic

Accelerating SDG progress in the time of a pandemic: improving food systems to make healthy diets accessible to all.

Question: In what ways has the pandemic exposed and increased the existing inequalities that impact health, diets, nutrition and access to affordable food, for the most marginalized groups in the region


  • The pandemic has shed light on and exacerbated the existing inequalities in our region, including the deep and significant inequalities that exist around access to nutritious and affordable foods (as we have heard some examples of today)
  • We know that unsustainable food systems, food insecurity and unsustainable production and consumption, go hand in hand with rising inequalities
  • Poverty and income inequality, both deepening with the pandemic, have obvious effects on people’s freedom to make healthy choices generally, and links closely with issues of mental health, physical health, and wellbeing .
  • the most marginalized in our communities are having to make very hard choices based on affordability, accessibility, and not on nutrition and health
  • The share of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion was high even before the crisis (especially for example children, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQI, and Roma – to mention some) income inequalities remain high in many of our countries, while tax systems, and underfunded or weakened social assistance and protection programs, are having have very little impact on reducing those disparities
  • Those that make and produce food, such as migrant and seasonal workers,are some of the most marginalized people in the region, who have little access to decision-making power, resulting in lack of access to the healthy and nutritious food that they help produce or transport or deliver, as well as facing exploitation and abuse and lack access to decent work and social protection
  • The drastic measures taken by governments to combat COVID-19 have affected refugees as well. Restrictions on freedom of movement, frozen administrative procedures in many countries, restrictions on business have severely affected displaced communities
  • Lack of universal health care also impaired food workers who have suffered from anti-union policies preventing negotiation of health care for food workers. Indigenous Peoples’ food systems are disrupted by the ways in which ecosystems have been injured by extraction, and Indigenous food workers’ sickness and death brought by the forced development of their territories, and attacks they face as defenders of the land that feeds their communities .
  • Increase in poverty rates with COVID-19 has posed major challenges to all ou health care systems, limited public funding, limited health insurance coverage, acute shortages of nurses and uneven regional distribution of health professionals.
  • The pandemic and all the challenges it has brought has pushed many more into acute poverty and hunger- hunger has become a daily challenge and reality for many in our countries – in every one of our countries as we woke for this roundtable, so did increasing numbers of families, children, women woke up hungry and will go to bed hungry tonight – as Sophie so passionately articulated, this no longer acceptable

Gender equality/ marginalized communities

  • the transformation of food systems is an economic and environmental issue, but also one of gender equality,
  • food insecurity;lack of food choices, lack of nutrition, lack of food caused by poverty can threaten women’s and marginalized communities health, and in turn their families and communities, and their access to healthcare as a whole, we are seeing this esp. The case during the pandemic
  • the essential work women also do in our food production chain for example, cannot be ignored.
  • women and girls access to land rights and property in parts of our region is very limited, bringing inequalities that affect food security, nutrition and health

Global South

  • As European citizens, we cannot ignore the ways in which our consumption and production, and the actions of big corporations impact communities in the South- destroy the local environment with chemical fertilizers, loss of land or inaccessible and unaffordable digital farming techniques for small farmers, and forcing of farmers to plant cash crops instead of food crops, the locals lose their choices on fresh, and nutritious food as a result, impacting health, livelihoods and communities – whilst this discussion today focuses on our region, we cannot ignore our role in food and nutrition and the global community in the context of the SDGs.

We must:

  • Mitigate and reverse impact of the extractivist, neoliberal development model , on ecosystems and local communities that has devastating impacts health and access to food and nutrition
  • We must address the rising and deep inequalities in the region towards upholding the right of people to decide their own food choices, to access affordable food, to produce their own food in a sustainable ways, without constraints of poverty
  • Just transition must be at the core of climate and health friendly production, incuding
  • inclusive food system transformation that is equitable and sustainable,
  • not business as usual, multiple crises- require us not just building back better from coivid , but building forward transformatively
  • Lastly, we must recognize that food and nutrition is an issue of health, but also an issue of bodily autonomy, of mental health, individual wellbeing and community wellbeing, economic justice, and ecological, climate and environmental justice

More than 1 in 6 of people under the age of 24 stopped working during the pandemic, and more than 90 percent of students were affected by closed schools, universities and educational centres.

Due to the lack of electronic devices in poor households, they failed to include their children in the changed environment and distance learning in time. “The COVID-19 pandemic has systematic, profound and disproportionate effects on young people.
Food insecurity and hunger

There was no preventive strategy for combating hunger and reducing the impact of epidemic measures on the most vulnerable social groups.

New, extensive lists of the needy were created in almost all settlements.

  • Market-driven governance has resulted in perverse subsidies to mega-businesses consolidating smaller businesses that were formerly locally owned, managed and accountable. This includes concentrated animal operations that have caused zoonotic disease outbreaks in the US. This market-driven governance led to hunger in parts of the US, that continued to produce food for export, sometimes for non-food purposes.