Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, countries all over the world have declared a lockdown on cities, restricting the movement of people, canceling flights, closing borders, shutting down schools and organizations, as well as enforcing social distancing.
This has however put a strain on food production and distribution as people are confined in their homes. Farmers, agricultural inputs, processing plants, shipping, retailers and consumers cannot transact due to the lockdown, thereby disrupting the supply chain.
In a bid to prevent food insecurity, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned countries to take steps in reducing the effect of a disruption in the food supply chain, as it is crucial to preserve the supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic.
FAO recommends that countries respond effectively in order to prevent the global pandemic from triggering a food crisis that could result in a major disaster where people cannot find or afford food to eat.
FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu expressed worries that restrictions of movement, as well as basic aversion behaviour by workers, may impede farmers from farming, affect food processors, cause a shortage of fertilizers, veterinary medicines and other input.
According to Dongyu, uncertainty about food availability can make policymakers implement trade-restrictive measures in order to safeguard national food security, but “with experience of the 2007-2008 global food price crisis, such measures can only exacerbate the situation.” He further warned that export restrictions put in place by exporting countries to increase food availability domestically could lead to serious disruptions in the world food market, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility.
FAO has warned policymakers to avoid tightening food-supply conditions, as this will prove to be extremely damaging, especially for low-income food-deficit nations like African countries. This will lead to efforts by humanitarian organizations to provide supplies for the needy and vulnerable, putting strain on the organizations.
At this point in time, the only solution is for the government and stakeholders to come together and provide a way out. The government must ensure that food markets are functioning properly, that information on prices, production, consumption and stocks of food are available to all in real-time. This will reduce uncertainty in the minds of the people, and allow producers, consumers, traders and processors to make informed decisions and to contain unwarranted panic behaviour in global food markets.
In the world today, over 133 million people are experiencing acute hunger, in Africa, with a quarter of the population undernourished and leaving slightly above poverty level. It is known that half of the African population live below a dollar a day, with Africa being one of the poorest nations in the world.
However, any disruptions to food supply chains will intensify both human suffering and the challenge of reducing hunger around the world especially in African countries dealing with food insecurity.
Nevertheless, countries must take immediate action to prevent such a disaster, as it costs less to prevent rather than dealing with the consequences. Global markets are critical for smoothening supply and demand shocks across countries and regions, countries need to work together to ensure that disruptions of food supply chains are minimized.