Processing and transportation breakdowns, panic buying threaten vulnerable nations; ‘a food crisis with lots of food’

The coronavirus pandemic hit the world at a time of plentiful harvests and ample food reserves. Yet a cascade of protectionist restrictions, transport disruptions and processing breakdowns has dislocated the global food supply and put the planet’s most vulnerable regions in particular peril.

“You can have a food crisis with lots of food. That’s the situation we’re in,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, or FAO.

Prices for staples such as rice and wheat have jumped in many cities, in part because of panic buying set off by export restrictions imposed by countries eager to ensure sufficient supplies at home. Trade disruptions and lockdowns are making it harder to move produce from farms to markets, processing plants and ports, leaving some food to rot in the fields.

At the same time, more people around the world are running short of money as economies contract and incomes shrivel or disappear. Currency devaluations in developing nations that depend on tourism or depreciating commodities like oil have compounded those problems, making imported food even less affordable.

“In the past, we have always dealt with either a demand-side crisis, or a supply-side crisis. But this is both—a supply and a demand crisis at the same time, and at a global level,” said Arif Husain, chief economist at the UN’s World Food Program. “This makes it unprecedented and uncharted.”

Read full article here.

Yaroslav Trofimov, Lucy Craymer – The Wall Street Journal – May 13, 2020.

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