Will COVID-19 lead to a global food crisis?

As the COVID-19 pandemic ripples across the globe, the UN World Food Program recently warned of security problems in the near future.

Dr. Maximo Torero, Chief Economist & Assistant Director-General of the Economic and Social Development Department at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, held that what will happen is a "logistical problem" instead of food scarcity. An important thing now is to resolve any potential logistical issue in food trade, such as how to move food from harvest areas to ports and then to countries that are net importers.

Staple food commodities, such as cereal and corn, are capital-intensive, meaning very little labor is needed in key exporting countries and thus they're less likely to be affected by lockdowns, he added. On the contrary, high-value food commodities, such as fruits, vegetables and meat, are labor-intensive, meaning they need a lot of labor force and therefore can be easily affected by lockdowns.

He also recommended governments give "priority" to food value chain.

Professor Ke Liu, Dean of School of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the Southern University of Science and Technology, said poor people not just in developing countries but also developed countries are vulnerable to a food crisis, so the UN Food and Agriculture Organization should prepare in advance to help them.

Countries including Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, India, Cambodia, and Egypt have applied, or are considering applying, trade restrictions on food or agricultural products during the coronavirus pandemic.

Liu believes that export limitation is not the right thing to do. There're lessons we can learn from the 2007-2008 food crisis. If one country starts to impose trade restrictions on food or agricultural products, then others will follow, which could turn into a catastrophe for food markets.

"Keeping the global food trade open is critical to keep the food market functioning," he said.

Kadara Swaleh, Director of Political Affairs of Jubilee Party of Kenya, agreed that we should keep global food trade open and "multilateralism" should be upheld widely at this moment.

He also pointed out that the biggest problem facing Africa is "livelihood." If people can have enough food for their family, they are ready to stay indoors for one month or two until the pandemic is over. Thus, it is very important to make sure every country has enough food to weather through this difficult time.

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