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Although many food crises are caused by factors such as extreme weather, the current potential food crisis, sparked by Covid-19, is of a different kind. Although the virus in and of itself does not create a food crisis, the consequences linked to Covid-19, such as lockdowns and a looming economic recession, are likely to spark regional food insecurity in some countries, as supply chains are disrupted or prices rise beyond affordability levels. With mounting concern over food supplies, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that Covid-19 has not yet had a major impact on the supply or price of food globally. On the contrary, however, is the reality that in many places, Covid-19 restrictions are causing a large increase in food wastage. In short, the world could face a food crisis arising from problems in logistics while excess food lies abandoned in the fields. As the future impact and extent of the virus is still evolving, food security predictions are difficult to make. In any case, it is clear that the impact of the crisis will be uneven across the world, and that existing conditions of food insecurity and famine in poorer parts of the world will be exacerbated by the pandemic. The following article surveys the effects of Covid-19 on food security across the world.
The Impact of Covid-19 on Food Security
The issue of food security is complex, and history has shown that a range of factors influence and impact the world’s food systems. Covid-19 and the policy measures implemented to contain it have already affected a range of these factors and caused disturbances to world food security. Food production and distribution has been challenged by lockdowns, border closures, and the strict social distancing measures enacted by most states in response to the pandemic. This is causing issues in logistics as well as human security.
On one hand, logistical issues facing trucking, shipping, and aviation pertain to additional restrictions and bottlenecks that hamper food transportation. Despite governments worldwide attempting to exempt cargo transport from restriction measures, the new logistical boundaries challenge the just-in-time supply chains adhered to by most contemporary producers. On the other hand, seasonal workers accustomed to migrating for fruit and vegetable picking fear getting caught in the movement restrictions and thus cannot, or will not, access their usual worksites. This has triggered a peculiar situation where harvest is impossible, due to a lack of workers and leading to food wasting in fields. This development will impact both food supply and food security, particularly in countries that already suffer from these challenges.
The many already living with endemic hunger and poverty are further impacted by transport and logistical issues. This creates two concerns. First, the implementation of curfews will result in many people losing their jobs, especially endangering those already living precariously from providing for their families. Secondly, food distribution systems in many parts of the world are already fragile and may deteriorate further. Disturbances are likely to make food less available and more expensive, decreasing the purchasing power and accessibility of food for many. For some, this situation may boil down to a choice between hunger, or facing the virus and government law enforcement, as has already occurred in India, Colombia, Kenya and Argentina.
To a large degree, food security issues arise because containment measures of the same kind are imposed across countries of different income levels. These measures are imposed with little or no concern for the fundamental societal differences between states. For instance, states with a large part of the population working in the food sector with limited-to-no social safety net may suffer disproportionately in comparison to those with strong safety nets.
The food industry is the largest employer in the world. In some low-income countries about 60 -70% of the workforce is working in the food sector, whereas in Europe this number is 3 – 5 %. Covid-19 related lockdowns and curfews in these countries have a major impact on the local production and access to food. For now, the FAO expects local disruptions caused by logistical issues to pose a challenge to supply chains but “their anticipated duration and magnitude are unlikely to have a significant effect on global food markets”.
Countries with conflict, poverty and hunger, such as Yemen, DRC, Myanmar or Venezuela, or who are facing potential humanitarian crisis, will be hit the hardest. People with the least – the most vulnerable – will suffer the most. The places where the most vulnerable live often have limited access to running water and have high population densities, such as slums and refugee camps – areas already facing increased vulnerability to Covid-19. Areas that have endemic humanitarian issues are likely to see rising prices, and even scarcity in whole food types, as these areas already face fragile supply chains.
|An area of special concern is Africa and the Middle East: Africa and the Middle east – Covid-19 and locust swarms The African countries especially Sub Saharan Africa stands to be hit a hard by the impact of Covid-19 and its containment measures. These regions are not only widely represented on global hunger indexes, are low on monetary as well as sanitary resources, but also face a large locust invasion which might destroy the local harvests and newly planted crops. Locust numbers exploded last year due to unusual weather conditions that was furthered by climate change. The limitations of flight traffic, that comes in the wake of Covid-19 containment measures, also limit the imports of insect poison and thus hampers the fight against the locus swarms. The Covid-19 restrictions thus hampers the fight against the locust, and in turn increases food insecurity in the locust hit areas. Especially Sub Saharan Africa have very harsh Covid-19 restrictions. This combined with the fact that many areas have a high living density, barter, scarce access to running water, and an economic crisis makes way for a large humanitarian crisis in the area.|
These disruptions are seen especially connected to the struggling migrant workers, who are increasingly unemployed as a consequence of the travel restrictions imposed by governments. These developments have let to demonstrations and violent protests across the world, such as in India, from people demanding the right to return to work. The FAO concludes that further cooperation between governments and organisations is required. Businesses are left with the question of how to make food systems and supply chains more resilient from the long-lasting impact of Covid-19.
Food Shortage and the Global Traveller
The FAO anticipates that global food production will decrease as a result of disruption, but will maintain at a sufficient level, particularly for key commodities such as rice, maize, and wheat. However, despite this food security is a critical issue not only for fragile states but also for the people and businesses who operate there. But in the wealthier parts of the world, food shortages are not expected to occur. While short term shortages were experienced due to hoarding and disruptions in just-in-time production, most producers successfully adjusted to these temporary shifts in consumer demand.
According to the FAO, the key to avoiding disruption is to uphold supply chains and maintain a high level of interstate cooperation. To prepare for increased instability, travellers and expats, especially those in fragile states or areas with susceptible supply systems, should stock up a reasonable amount of food and water while mentally preparing for a potential reality in which certain goods may become temporarily unavailable.
Besides famine, unemployment and poverty, food insecurity is often accompanied by social unrest, further destabilization, violent conflict, manipulation of state power, and increased recruitment by militant and terror groups. Similar to how a range of different factors affect food security, food insecurity and shortages can ignite a long list of other security issues.