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COVID-19 lockdown measures could trigger global food crisis

In a new study from AAAS, experts have investigated how the COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the global food supply. The study authors emphasize that threats to food security must be acknowledged by governments worldwide to prevent the COVID-19 health crisis from becoming a global food crisis as well. 

The research team, led by David Laborde of the International Food Policy Research Institute, found that the most direct impacts of COVID-19 on food security are tied to the economic fallout associated with extreme measures used to contain the virus. These measures have had a major impact on food supply chains worldwide. 

In addition, measures to stop the pandemic have caused many people around the world to lose their jobs, as well as their ability to buy food. 

According to the study authors, the global food supply itself will be strained by disruptions that result from labor shortages, widespread industry closures, and travel and shipping restrictions. 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, trade-offs have emerged between the need to contain the virus and to avoid disastrous economic and food security crises that hurt the world’s poor and hungry most,” wrote the researchers.

“Although no major food shortages have emerged as yet, agricultural and food markets are facing disruptions because of labor shortages created by restrictions on movements of people and shifts in food demand resulting from closures of restaurants and schools as well as from income losses.” 

The experts report that the pandemic is affecting every aspect of food security on some level, with the most severe strain being placed on access to food. These effects are the most profound in poorer countries.

“The poorest households spend around 70% of their incomes on food and have limited access to financial markets, making their food security particularly vulnerable to income shocks,” wrote the study authors.

To address the emerging threats to global food security, Laborde and his colleagues suggest that governments of both rich and poor nations should first focus on ways to provide income support to protect food access for their most vulnerable citizens. They say it is also critical for agricultural, food processing, and distribution sectors to be declared essential and exempted from lockdown measures. 

“Health protocols are needed to protect workers in food chains and to help contain COVID-19. Incentives and support for food transport and logistics, including deliveries to needy areas and for the sick, are also important,” said the researchers. 

“Likewise, governments should engage with market participants to ensure the smooth functioning of agricultural input markets (seeds, fertilizer, labor, and credits), especially for time-critical inputs for planting and harvesting. Allowing movement of seasonal and migrant labor is also important in many contexts.”

The study is published in the journal Science.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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