To contain the spread of COVID-19, countries around the globe have enforced lockdowns or shelter in place. It has resulted in partial or full closure of most of the industries and wreaked havoc on the global economy. In such a critical situation, human beings try their best that they do not run out of food supplies. They rush to grocery stores to secure as much food supply as possible, which puts the food and agriculture industry under enormous pressure.
As of now, the global markets for basic cereals are well supplied, and prices are not skyrocketing. As compared to the 2006-2007 global food crisis, the situation is very different this time. Food scarcity is not a dilemma, but the problem is the movement of the food from world food basket markets to where they are needed. The pandemic is disturbing the food market equilibrium by disrupting the supply chain. It is affecting both the supply side and the demand side.
On the supply side, transportations restrictions, shortage of labour, and farmers’ limited access to the market are shifting paradigms in agricultural production. The food supply chain mainly consists of two food groups; cereal group (wheat, rice, soybeans, corn, etc.) and fresh produce group (vegetables and fruits). In developed countries, the former group is heavily mechanised, and it would not be affected a lot by the shortage of labour. However, the latter group, both in developed as well as developing countries, highly relies on labour. In America only, temporary foreign visa workers who mainly come from Mexico make up 20% of the farms’ workforce. In the wake of COVID-19, the recent suspension of all immigrant and non-immigrant visas temporarily by the American government has raised concerns for American farmers.
In addition to the labour shortage, both food groups are being equally affected by transportations restrictions. Rosario in Central Argentina is the world’s largest exporter of soybeans animal feed, and recently, the local municipal government has stopped allowing food trucks in town to slow down the spread of coronavirus. So far, most of the ports are working. However, if the critical international trade ports stop operating, it can result in a significant challenge for global trade.
On the demand side, the impact of COVID-19 on global food security is even worse. The factors which are mainly contributing to worsening the situation are individuals’ behaviour and loss of purchasing power. Firstly, when countries around the globe announced lockdowns and shelter in place, the majority of the individuals rushed towards grocery stores and exhibited panic buying behaviour. If such panic buying continued for a long time, and people kept hoarding, eventually it would spike up prices and make the food items expensive. Secondly, because of the partial closure of most businesses, most of the people have become unemployed and have lost purchasing power. The people in developing countries are at more risk now because of the large percentage of the population in those countries works as daily labourers.
COVID-19 is not only harming global food security, but it could lead to severe consequences. One possible implication beyond food insecurity is the rise in violence and conflict. Analysts are predicting that Africa and the Middle East are most vulnerable at the moment. If one looks at the history of Africa, one can quickly notice the mass number of ongoing conflicts because of food insecurity in the African countries. Therefore, it is time for the world leaders to learn lessons from Africa and make sure that they can ensure global food security in this pandemic, to have a peaceful planet in the long run.
In my opinion, continuous transportation and global trade can solve half of the global food security problems in this particular scenario. Therefore, on a country level, every country should make sure that food logistics and transportations are not being put to halt during the lockdown. Of course, health comes at a priority; thus, it should be mandated for the transporters to observe all the safety and precautionary measures.
On a global level, multinational businesses and political leaders should join hands together and determine the efficient methods to maintain a smooth flow of global trade. On the other side, every government should educate its citizens through social and electronic media to not indulge in panic buying behaviour and support each other in this hour of need. Also, the governments should make sure that vulnerable members of society, i.e., the recently unemployed because of coronavirus are being taken care of through food banks and not going to bed hungry. At this point, wealthy individuals and thriving businesses must come forward and support their fellow human beings through food aid and monetary compensation.