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What does a global pandemic mean for a global food system?

What does a global pandemic mean for a global food system?

In the last few weeks, we have all experienced the impact that COVID-19 has had on food supplies. With supermarkets picked clean, many are wondering whether this is a short-term reaction to the crisis or a prelude to more significant shortages as global trade grinds to a halt. Uncertainty about food availability could spark a wave of export restrictions, resulting in shortages on the global market and price spikes.

Already, there is increased price volatility due to the perceived likelihood of trade restrictions, with wheat prices climbing 8% and rice prices by 25%. Of even greater concern is Nigeria, where rice prices increased by more than 30% at the beginning of the outbreak in March in response to panic purchasing. This volatility, coupled with the domestic restrictions that many nations have placed on their citizens to control the spread of the disease, has led to worrying developments around the world, particularly in the Global South. In Zimbabwe, police confiscated and burned three tons of fruits and vegetables from farmers who had broken movement restrictions, while a stampede broke out at a food distribution centre in Nairobi, resulting in numerous injuries.

In order to head it off at the pass, the WTOWHO and FAO put out a joint statement encouraging countries not to limit their exports of food. The joint statement by their respective Directors-General highlighted the fact that ‘millions of people around the world depend on international trade for their food security and livelihoods,’ and continued to say that, ‘now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security, food safety and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world’.

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