IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY
The blog is written by Parijat Roy. The Author is a MBA student of IFMR GSB at Krea University.
Food security means all people at all times, must have access to the basic food they need.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), currently, around 820 million people around the world are suffering from chronic hunger and approx. 113 million are suffering from acute and severe insecurity i.e. hunger so insecure that it can pose a threat to their lives and livelihoods. Which are the groups more vulnerable to food insecurity? Vulnerable groups include the farmers, fisherman and pastorals who are hindered from working at their land and livestock amid the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19. They are facing challenges to sell their products or buy essential inputs due to income losses. Another group hit hardly by the pandemic are the children relying on free mid-day meals offered at govt. schools. Closure of all educational institutions have led millions of children suffer from hunger due to lack of daily meals and no formal access to social protection. This can pave the way for malnutrition which at present, accounts for 10.8% of the global population. Informal workers are also hit by massive job losses and food insecurity. In India, as per the latest Economic survey, 93% of the total workforce are informal workers.
Are the global food supply chains at risk? As per the predictions of FAO, the global cereal stocks are going to remain at sufficient levels for the year 2020. But there are negative implications for fisheries and aquaculture. Logistics issues such as restrictions in transportation, border closures and reduction in demand by restaurants and hotels will create market changes, thus affecting prices. Shortage of labour shall also create hindrances in food supply. In India, this is the peak season wherein crops like wheat, gram, lentil, mustard etc are harvested. Migration of laborers amid the lockdown will cause panic in the supply chain of such crops. Kazakhstan, for example, one of the largest producers of wheat flour has banned its exports along with others such as carrots, sugar and potatoes. Many of the ASEAN countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia are facing fall in supply and rise in prices of staple food items such as sugar, salt, rice, onions etc.
Hence amid nationwide lockdown declared by several countries, the implications on food supply leading from shortage of labour, must be taken care of. India has been following a price-support based policy called Minimum Support Price (MSP) which at the current scenario is extremely crucial to fight any food crisis. India announced a ₹1.7 lakh crore ($22.6 billion) package contributing to food security for the vulnerable sections by providing 5 kg wheat/rice for each person free of cost for 3 months. However, the coverage of such distribution system is low in urban areas which is about 50% as per a survey done by International Food Policy Research Institute, as a result of which many urban poor might be left out. The extra grains pumped into the supply chain might depress prices in the long run, affecting small farmers and businesses. Hence all such relief packages introduced by various nations are just a beginning. Government needs to effectively plan how much and for what length of time the food system can supply the social safety net. Further, international cooperation and smooth functioning of global trade is necessary. As rise in food prices are highly likely, developing countries such as Laos or Myanmar, depending on imported food are highly vulnerable to food crisis. Hence, countries must review their taxation and trade policies for ensuring a favourable environment in global food supply.