Covid-19 a wake-up call as food rots, prices soar and hunger grows

In the fight against the global Covid-19 pandemic, borders have been closed and a lack of local production has led to soaring prices in some countries, which is a wake-up call to strengthen the global food system during the lockdowns, according to a new report.

The World Food Programme has warned that by the end of this year, an additional 130 million people could face famine.

“Although harvests have been successful and food reserves are available, global food supply chain interruptions led to food shortages in some places because of lockdown measures,” said Franziska Gaupp, a researcher from Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Products cannot be moved from farms to markets. Food is rotting in the fields as transport disruptions have made it impossible to move food from the farm to the consumer.

“At the same time, many people have lost their incomes and food has become unaffordable to them,” Gaupp added.

In South Sudan, for example, wheat prices have increased 62 per cent since February 2020. Difficult access to food, and related stress could then lead to food riots and collective violence.

According to Gaupp, a systems approach is needed to address the challenges of a globally interconnected, complex food system.

“Systemic risk and systemic opportunities need to be incorporated into food-related policies. It is important to highlight that the threat to food security is not just a result of potential disruptions of production, but also shocks to distribution as well as shortfalls of the consumers’ income,” he suggested.

Covid-19 has shown how interconnected our world is, and how a simultaneous shock – such as a pandemic – also affects our food system.

There is enough for everyone, however, some countries are panic buying, and some are banning exports.

“This is why the whole supply and demand system is experiencing challenges, leading to more difficult access to food, especially in poorer countries,” she emphasized.

There will likely be more shocks hitting our global food system in the future.

“We need global collaboration and transdisciplinary approaches to ensure that the food chains function even in moments of crises to prevent price spikes and to provide all people with safe access to food,” Gaupp suggested.