The impact of a global pandemic: Part Six … of zoonotic diseases


THE coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its numerous mutations were intertwined with the sustainability dimension of food security in complex ways. 

For example, the expansion of industrial agriculture is associated with a rising prevalence of zoonosis diseases that transmit from animals to humans, of which COVID-19 is a prime example. 

According to Dr Tony Monda: “Fragile ecosystems, especially the degradation of wildlife habitats, are widely seen as a key driver of closer human-wild animal interaction that creates increased opportunities for diseases to be spread between man and animal.” 

Climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution have led to a planetary crisis that requires an urgent response. 

Good stewardship of the land is vital to make land-based ecosystems and communities more resilient and better able to adapt to the effects of global heating.  

Human activities directly influence some 70 percent of the world’s ice-free land. 

Population growth and increases in resource consumption are causing unprecedented levels of human-induced environmental degradation.

African countries face a dual challenge of adapting to the growing effects of climate change in the form of extreme weather, as well as increasing agriculture and food production as part of developing their economies. 

At the same time, there is increasing concentration in the production and trading of agriculture and food products, globally and within Africa.

Findings from the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reinforces the vital role of a healthy environment in protecting livelihoods, climate and biodiversity.  

This, in turn, will limit the resurgence of deadly viruses such as the recent pervasive coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic which claimed over five million lives worldwide.

Disruption to supply chains, animal and plant health services and surveillance impacts early warning, prevention and control of high impact animal, zoonotic and plant pests and diseases. 

Left uncontrolled and unchecked, pests and diseases can exacerbate the strain on food production, security and safety as well as ecosystem services and trade, thereby threatening ‘One Health’ – that is animal, plant, human and ecosystem health. 

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), together with the Quadripartite Partners (IFAD, WFP, UNDP and UNIDO), worked through the One Health Joint Plan of Action to mitigate these disruptions.

FAO’s early warning systems and the Tripartite Alliance monitored the global COVID-19 situation at the animal-human interface, sharing information through the Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture to advance a comprehensive One Health approach to prevent another zoonotic pandemic. 

By collaborating with other UN organisations and external actors, concerted efforts were made to achieve coherence and synergies for the development of COVID-19-related knowledge and data services that contributed to building a shared understanding of the impact of the crisis. 

Zimbabwe’s One Health Antimicrobial Resistance National Action Plan (2017-2021) was a national cross-sectoral plan. Its main objectives included: surveillance of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and antimicrobial use (AMU) patterns in animals, humans and crops; prevention to reduce the need for antimicrobials through effective infection prevention and control (IPC); farm bio-security and good farm practices; Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and immunisation; rational antimicrobial use, to improve controlled access to antimicrobials and to optimise responsible use in animals and humans; improve detection and understanding of the AMR and antimicrobial use patterns and trends through surveillance; reduce the need for antimicrobials by improving IPC, animal health and management practices including bio-security, WASH and immunisation; improve controlled access and optimise the use of antimicrobials in humans and animals; strengthen knowledge of human, animal, environment health; educate farmers on AMR to support good prescribing practices; establish an AMU monitoring system for human and animal use;

Among its numerous provisions, the Plan also provided to: strengthen the existing biosecurity measures on hatcheries, farms, slaughter houses and food processing establishments to prevent, reduce and contain pathogens to improve livestock productivity, animal welfare, food security and food safety; improve movement controls of animals and animal products and border control mechanisms to reduce trans-boundary animal disease; reduce the transmission of infectious diseases in communities, health, veterinary and plant facilities through effective water, sanitation and hygiene practices and provision of appropriate facilities; improve access to antimicrobials by animal keepers by increasing access points for the sale and provision of antimicrobials; ensure Standard Treatment Guidelines and Essential Medicine List reflect the current diseases and pathogens in humans and animals; ensure adequate supplies of quality assured essential anti-microbials at various levels of human and animal health delivery systems;  as well as strengthen veterinary control of antimicrobials use by animal keepers and veterinary para-professionals without limiting access.

In support of member-States, the FAO worked very closely across the UN system with the International Food and Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), in over 20 policy-oriented analytical studies on the impact of the pandemic on the agricultural and rural sectors in selected countries. 

They worked closely with the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP), and the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), among other agencies on specific and mutual areas of assistance to accelerate their recovery from the pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda. 

Through the expansion and scaling-up of social protection policies and measures on tenure rights, FAO promoted inclusive economic recovery and rural employment. 

Cash interventions and training on good agricultural practices was provided for vulnerable households which assisted to boost smallholders’ resilience. They also mitigated the impacts of the pandemic on gender and the use of child labour.

To address the issue of availability of, and access to, fertilisers, FAO developed the Fertiliser Trade Tracker; an online tool allowing countries to gauge remaining import needs and/or unrealised export availability for the existing crop and calendar year.

Fertiliser assessments and policy responses were also developed as part of the assessments of the risks of the war in Ukraine on global agri-food markets and world food security.

Furthermore, in response to rising import prices and growing difficulties in accessing international fertiliser markets, FAO developed a scheme to prioritise the allocation of international fertiliser supplies to countries in Africa. 

The scheme and its results were made available to the Global Crisis Response Group and the Sustain Africa Initiative.

Whilst the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) was designed as a standalone global programme, the integration of the GHRP to the specific country’s Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) of the Humanitarian Country Team and/or the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster enabled the joint planning and alignment of strategic interventions to leverage complementary synergies. 

The co-ordination of work ensured identification of gaps, avoidance of duplication and optimised the sequencing of interventions for specific project locations.

The status of soil health varies around the world and the impact of soil nutrient availability on crop yield depends on current soil condition, water availability and crop requirements. Decisions on sustainable soil management, including the application of fertilisers, are based on soil analytical data. To this end, FAO promoted the adoption of the International Code of Conduct for the Sustainable Use and Management of Fertilisers through Soil Nutrient Maps. .

Our future economic growth, prosperity and well-being depend on protecting and restoring contagion-free working landscapes. 

Positive changes to agricultural and resource extraction practices must be founded in sustainable land management and land restoration techniques to provide positive and lasting contributions toward societal well-being and sustainability, like food security, employment, disaster risk reduction, ecological benefits and improved public health free of deadly contagions. 

According to UN agencies, two billon hectares of degraded land are available to kick-start green economy and develop opportunities for employment, learning and poverty reduction.  

These measures will help to mitigate against future zoonotic disease outbreaks.  

This, in turn, will save mankind from new epidemic-prone diseases and other dangerous pathogens, such as COVID-19. 

Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and is a published author in her field.  For comments e-mail:

 Dr  Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and is a published author in her field. For comments e-mail:


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