The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic may result in global food shortage, warn agencies across the world, as a result of the global lockdown and inadvertent consequences of international trade and food security measures.
“Millions of people around the world depend on international trade for their food security and livelihoods,” according to a joint statement issued by QU Dongyu, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and Roberto Azevedo, Directors-General of FAO, WHO, and WTO.
Global Food security
“As countries move to enact measures aiming to halt the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic, care must be taken to minimize potential impacts on the food supply or unintended consequences on global trade and food security.”
Around the globe, countries have shut down all inessential service and travel. Offices, schools, colleges, eateries, business establishments and malls and theatres have been shut. Airlines, buses and rail travel has been banned or restricted in most countries.
“When acting to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, countries should ensure that any trade-related measures do not disrupt the food supply chain."
“Such disruptions, including hampering the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and extending border delays for food containers, result in the spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste.”
Food trade restrictions could also be linked to unjustified concerns on food safety, according to the statement. “If such a scenario were to materialize, it would disrupt the food supply chain, with particularly pronounced consequences for the most vulnerable and food-insecure populations.”
The pandemic is spreading at a breakneck speed with the world overwhelmed in its capacity to deal with its fast spread. Researchers across the world are hard at work to find an antidote—vaccine or medicine for the virus, but the best-case scenario is a solution at the earliest in a year.
If the pandemic lasts for long, then nations are bound to impose restrictions on the export of food items. This may create a global food shortage, according to these agencies.
“Some countries could resort to trade restrictions or aggressive stockpiling in a bid to safeguard global food security, which could quickly escalate and support grain and oilseed prices,” said Fitch Solutions.
“It is at times like this that more, not less, international cooperation becomes vital. Amid the COVID-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible, especially to avoid global food shortage.”
Nations must also ensure that levels of food production, consumption, and stocks, as well as food prices, all this information is available to all in real-time to avoid any panic and fake news spread. “This reduces uncertainty and allows producers, consumers, and traders to make informed decisions. Above all, it helps contain ‘panic buying' and the hoarding of food and other essential items.”
It is also imperative to maintain the safety of workers employed in food production and processing units and at the retail level to minimize the spread of the disease within this sector and maintain food supply chains.
“Consumers, in particular the most vulnerable, must continue to be able to access food within their communities under strict safety requirements.
The agencies reiterated that any panicked response to the COVID-10 should not create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition.
The FAO believes that though at the moment nations are able to maintain the supply, there may be price hikes in higher-value products like meat and perishable items rather than for staples, which are in adequate supply.
The COVID-19 virus has claimed the lives of 64,727 people in more than 190 nations, and 1,201,964 people have been infected with the virus so far.