Sunday

2nd Oct 2022

Opinion

UN food chief: Don't let Covid-19 become hunger game

  • We must face the challenge: an enormous risk that food may not be made available where it is needed (Photo: Bernard Hermant)

The Covid-19 pandemic is putting enormous strains on the public health systems around the world, and millions of people in the world's most advanced economies are in some form of quarantine.

We know the human toll will be high, and that massive efforts to turn the tide carry a heavy economic cost.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

To reduce the risk of an even greater toll - shortage of food for millions, even in affluent countries - the world must take immediate actions to minimise disruptions to food supply chains.

A globally coordinated and coherent response is needed to prevent this public health crisis from triggering a food crisis in which people cannot find or afford food.

For now, Covid-19 has not entailed any strain on food security, despite anecdotal reports of crowded supermarket sieges.

While there's no need for panic - there is enough supply of food in the world to feed everyone – we must face the challenge: an enormous risk that food may not be made available where it is needed.

The Covid-19 outbreak, with all the accompanying closures and lockdowns, has created logistical bottlenecks that ricochet across the long value chains of the modern global economy.

Restrictions of movement, as well as basic aversion behaviour by workers, may impede farmers from farming and food processors (who handle most agricultural products) from processing.

Shortage of fertilisers, veterinary medicines and other input could also affect agricultural production.

From Manhattan to Manila

Closures of restaurants and less frequent grocery shopping diminish demand for fresh produce and fisheries products, affecting producers and suppliers, especially smallholder farmers, with long-term consequences for the world's increasingly urbanised population, be they in Manhattan or Manila.

Uncertainty about food availability can induce policymakers to implement trade restrictive measures in order to safeguard national food security.

Given the experience of the 2007-2008 global food price crisis, we know that such measures can only exacerbate the situation.

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.

In 2007-2008, these immediate measures proved extremely damaging, especially for low income food deficit countries and to the efforts of humanitarian organisations to procure supplies for the needy and vulnerable.

We should all learn from our recent past and not make the same mistakes twice.

Policy makers must take care to avoid accidentally tightening food-supply conditions.

While every country faces its own challenges, collaboration – between governments and the full gamut of sectors and stakeholders - is paramount. We are experiencing a global problem that requires a global response.

We must ensure that food markets are functioning properly and that information on prices, production, consumption and stocks of food is available to all in real time.

This approach will reduce uncertainty and allow producers, consumers, traders and processors to make informed decisions and to contain unwarranted panic behaviour in global food markets.

The health impacts of the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic on some of the poorest countries are still unknown. Yet, we can say with certainty that any ensuing food crisis as a result of poor policy making will be a humanitarian disaster that we can avert.

We already have 113 million people experiencing acute hunger; in sub-Saharan Africa, a quarter of the population is undernourished. Any disruptions to food supply chains will intensify both human suffering and the challenge of reducing hunger around the world.

We must do everything possible to not let that happen. Prevention costs less.

Global markets are critical for smoothening supply and demand shocks across countries and regions, and we need to work together to ensure that disruptions of food supply chains are minimised as much as possible.

Covid-19 forcefully reminds us that solidarity is not charity, but common sense.

Author bio

QU Dongyu is the director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Coronavirus threat to EU farm seasonal workers

The restrictive measures taken by many member states to respond to the coronavirus outbreak make it difficult for EU farmers and fishermen to continue their daily work - which is disrupting the agri-food sector across the continent.

Cybercrime rises during coronavirus pandemic

Cybercrime and cyberattacks have increased due to the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, the World Health Organization, hospitals and research centres are being targeted by organised cybercriminals - searching for information, intelligence, and systems access.

Coronavirus crisis deepens, but solidarity blooms

Despite the horrific impact of the coronavirus on the EU's economy and daily life of its citizens, solidarity is spreading across communities in all member states - with offline and online initiatives.

Pandemic reveals weakness of EU food system

The coronavirus outbreak exposed the need to transform the EU's farming and food systems, to a more sustainable agricultural system that can be resilient to future shocks. The long-anticipated 'Farm to Fork' strategy can make this difference, campaigners say.

How US tech giants play EU states off against each other

Some have tried to justify Big Tech's meagre tax payments in EU states with heavier tax burdens by emphasising the fact that these companies create jobs and invest in next-generation technologies. However, their market dominance comes at a steep cost.

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

News in Brief

  1. EU ministers adopt measures to tackle soaring energy bills
  2. EU takes Malta to court over golden passports
  3. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  4. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  5. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  6. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  7. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  8. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Editor's weekly digest: A week of leaks
  2. Putin declares holy war on Western 'satanism'
  3. Two elections and 'Macron's club' in focus Next WEEK
  4. EU agrees windfall energy firm tax — but split on gas-price cap
  5. Ukrainian chess prodigy: 'We are not going to resign ... anywhere'
  6. Going Down Under — EU needs to finish trade deal with Australia
  7. MEPs worry Russian disinfo weakens support for Ukraine
  8. Everything you need to know about the EU gas price cap plan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us