Seeding a Food-Secure Future

Calendar 10 Sep 2020
Time 8.00 pm – 8.40 pm, GMT+8 
Location Zoom
cpd1 SILA CPD Pts, 2 SIP CPD Pts 
BOA-SIA members: no lectures or webinars will award CPD points this year as CPD requirements are waived


COVID-19 has triggered panic-buying, stockpiling and food protectionism, exposing an over-reliance on highly efficient supply chains and rational governance. Hear how cities and multilateral banks can ensure affordability and accessibility to nutritious food in the face of disruptions, which will only become more frequent due to pandemics and climate change.

Webinar Video




Slides by Martien van Nieuwkoop (PDF: 657KB)

Webinar Takeaways

The future is not very food secure now

Mr van Nieuwkoop first noted that the world is off track to achieve the second Sustainable Development Goal (SGD) in ending hunger. Local food prices have increased at a faster rate than overall inflation. “The impacts vary from country to country, but the poor are in much more vulnerable situation”, Martin said. “Poor people have to spend a significant proportion of their income on the purchase of food”. While this was already the case before COVID-19, this was exacerbated by the pandemic.

COVID-19 has amplified weaknesses of the global food system

Martien further noted that COVID-19 is impacting food security through multiple pathways, such as disruption to global food supply chains, higher food import costs due to currency depreciations, and lower dispensable income. COVID-19 has also amplified weaknesses of the global food system. For instance, panic-buying, stockpiling and food protectionism, exposes an over-reliance on highly efficient supply chains and rational governance. Unsafe food handling process at food production facilities and markets hugely increases the risk of anginal to human transmission. COVID-19 also exposes the risk of poor diet due to disrupted food supply chain, and increased food lose and waste.

Broader resource and climate challenges

Apart from COVID-19 crisis, broader challenges remain. Martien shared that there are 4.4 billion people to feed in cities today, and this is projected to increase by more than 50% over the next 30 years. “By 2050, we will need 56% more food to feed 9.8 billion people”, said Martien, “if we do business as usual, this means 600 million hectare more land for agriculture, which is twice the size of India.”

Climate change will continue to have far-reaching impacts on food security. Martien further noted that the world needs to reduce emission of agriculture sector by two thirds by 2050, to align with the Paris agreement to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius. When asked if climate change has impacted food security, Martien concurred. He shared that farmers are seeing more frequent adverse events and unpredictable weather like droughts, and that warm weather have contributed to pests and the spread of diseases, such as the locust infestation in Africa.

Martien highlighted the World Bank’s publication “Recipe for Progress: Advancing Urban Food Agenda in Emerging Asia”, which reports four key areas where cities can implement a RICH food system, or systems that are “Resilient, Inclusive, Competitive and Healthy”.

Mainstream food security in urban governance

The first area is urban food system governance. As food governance is a multi-sectoral agenda and does not sit in one ministry, cities are better positioned to tackle urban food challenges and drive change. Martien cautioned that “one size doesn’t fit all” and that local circumstances would influence the implementation of plans. “Cities need to develop and design their own path and what they can do.”

Martien also highlighted that cities also would have to be proactive and “mainstream food security in urban governance”. He explained that if food security is not factored into areas like land use planning, transport planning and infrastructure investments and urban waste management, cities might find themselves “locked in” and unable to enhance their food security.

Promote healthy diets; improve food logistics

Second, Martien emphasised the importance for city governments to influence food choices and promote healthy diets, through consumer education, food pricing, food taxation and public procurement of hospital and school meals.

Martien also noted that governments could further improve food logistics and marketing by holding informal sector players to higher standards. This can be done through upgrading food markets, improving transportation to designated informal markets, and developing clear and consistent policies and guidelines.

Technology: unlocking a ‘triple win’

Finally, Martien shared how smart technology will create possibilities for cities to increase urban food production, from hydroponics, rooftop farming food to vertical farming. “This is a very exciting area and government should keep a close eye on”, he said. He emphasised the need to invest in research and development for adaptive technologies to build resilience and “climate-smart agriculture” that will “unlock triple win of increasing productivity, improving adaptation and contribute to mitigation simultaneously”.

Urban farming and alternative proteins

When asked to elaborate on the different modes of urban farming, Martien shared that in the context of COVID-19, backyard and rooftop farming will become more attractive as a socially distanced activity. But Martien cautioned that cities should not expect that such farming will makes cities self-sufficient. He qualified that such methods instead fit very well in building resilience by making supply chains shorter.

On the question of insect and plant-based protein, Martien replied that this was an exciting area that can provide more consumer choice and help global food systems meet the challenge of producing 56% more food. He noted that insect-based protein also has a role in many societies and cultures as well as an important source in animal feed.

Global food supply chains will not collapse

Despite an urgent need to rethink food security, “the good news is that we know what [needs to] be done, to make our food system more healthy, resilient and sustainable”, Martien said. “World Bank has laid out 10 critical multi-sectoral transitions needed to transform food systems”. This requires investments in global food system between now and 2030, amounting to 300-350 billion US dollars per year.

When asked, Martien was quick to clarify that global food supply chains will not collapse. He recounted the food price crisis in 2008 when several rice-exporting countries implemented food export bans, which led to an 40% increase in the price of rice and wheat. Martien opined that people learnt from that incident, and along with World Bank’s guidance, countries have restrained from imposing similar bans despite the pandemic.

While they will not collapse, Martien highlighted that global supply chains will need to adjust to become more resilient by becoming not only more local, but also more digital, with the ability to connect consumers and producers in real time.

About the Speakers



Martien van Nieuwkoop
Global Director for the Agriculture and Food Global Practice
World Bank

As Global Director for the Agriculture and Food Global Practice since July 1, 2019, Martien van Nieuwkoop provides leadership to the formulation and implementation of the World Bank’s strategy and knowledge in agriculture and food, oversees the operationalization of the Bank’s vision on agriculture and food in regional and country programs, and manages the Agriculture and Food Global Practice. Martien joined the World Bank in 1993 as a Young Professional, and prior to this was an associate scientist in the Economics Program of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico and an associate expert in the Dutch bilateral cooperation program in Pakistan.



Chintan Raveshia
Cities Planning + Design Leader

Chintan is a trained architect and an urban designer and leads the Cities Planning + Design team for Arup in South East Asia. With over 16 years’ experience living across 3 continents, his projects in SEA range from planning the new capital city for Indonesia to developing a vision for the future of Smart HDBs in Singapore. Under Arup Singapore’s Future Cities Hub, his research projects focus on future of food manufacturing, walkability and autonomous vehicles in cities. 


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