Sunday, May 24, 2020

COVID-19 and Hunger

Economies around the world are slowly reopening from their coronavirus-induced lockdowns, but parts of the global food supply chain may have suffered permanent damage.

In the time it takes for the world to re-adjust, more than 130 million people could go hungry, predicts the World Bank. The so-called hunger pandemic could affect far more people than those who contracted the actual virus. At the heart of this dire vision of the near future is a food system that was already wasteful and never designed to withstand the type of powerful shock brought on by COVID-19.

"I hope this is a wake-up call for the world that we cannot let the financial markets drive the global food supply chain," Christopher Tang, UCLA distinguished professor of business administration told Al Jazeera. The food supply chain consists of seven types of actors: Seed and chemical sellers, farmers, traders, food companies, retailers, restaurants/cafeterias and finally, consumers. All of them need to be paid for their efforts, or they will start reducing capacity "because it is a free market, it is not just about food it is about finance - how are actors within the free market being compensated for their efforts", said Professor Tang.

The need for food - actual hunger - is not a determining factor in food supply chains.

Getting food to your table is a race against rot; delays along the chain increase the risk of spoilage or loss. Under normal circumstances, the problem is so bad that the Boston Consulting Group estimates by 2030 $1.5 trillion worth of food around the world could be lost or wasted.

"Whether through rising food prices, falling incomes, or both, people will have less real income to pay for their food," Johan Swinnen, director general at the International Food Policy Research Institute told Al Jazeera.

"Every hand that touches food along the supply chain will need safety measures, and there is a cost for all of those measures: Truckers need safety measures; Farmers need safety measures, and shops will limit the number people they allow in at one time," said Tang. "Every single link on the chain costs money so vendors must charge higher prices."
They will likely charge higher prices, even if people cannot pay. And that may be one of COVID-19's most painful and deadly consequences: You could survive the virus, but be crippled by hunger.

No comments: