Elise Clark

The global crisis of COVID-19 has illuminated many gaps in governmental systems across the world when it comes to reacting and responding to crises, but particularly when it comes to food shortages and weaknesses in the global supply chain.  The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) reported, there are an “estimated (pre-COVID-19) 821 million people experiencing chronic undernourishment and with poor nutrition contributing to 45 percent of the deaths in children under the age of five.”

Now, the Sustainable Development Goal to achieve zero hunger in 2030 is being particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with Martin Cole, the High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) Chairperson reporting that the “pandemic makes this situation even more urgent: world hunger is projected to rise, with the most affected being the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population.”

Although food shortages and food insecurity are often dismissed as issues experienced by failed states or conflict zones, Lyric Hughes Hale, in the Financial Times, reports that “food insecurity is also rising in nations as rich as the US, where more than one five households report they do not have enough food to eat…” The article continues to explain that although energy prices remain low, an important variable for food production, food costs are rising, which could lead to inflation.  Although many food industries have been able to adapt to the pandemic, many factors are contributing to the continued food crisis, not just food production.

Because of the spread of the virus, well-developed countries, with supply chain and modernized healthcare systems in place, were impacted first.  Panic buying, hoarding, and temporary shortages all contributed to a disruption in the food supply chain, and the efforts to flatten the curve contributed to massive economic impacts, from an increase in unemployment to school closures. In April, the New York Times reported, in an article written by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, that for vulnerable populations, “[stressors] were so common—evictions, unemployment, isolation—that COVID-19 hadn’t yet struck many of them as particularly significant.”  However, individuals who relied on subsidized meals through schools, government assistance, or food from local markets had to navigate new limitations on their ability to leave their home or changes in public transportation systems.

For families and communities on the edge of poverty, this type of wide-scale disruption could impact their food security for several years, beyond the immediate effects of the pandemic.  In the medium and long-term, the CFS reports, “disruptions to the movement of farm labour and the supplies needed to grow food are starting to affect the supply side of the food chain.”  For example, Venezuela is grappling with one of the largest food crises in the world, as well as broken supply chains.  In October, John Otis explains, in The Wall Street Journal, that local farmers are continuing to produce, but cannot afford the gasoline required to transport their goods to stores around the country.  The delays in transportation, and the limitation of the shelf life of many foods, are causing many farmers to fertilize or plant late, which impacts next season’s production rate.

The CFS recommended four policy changes that could help the global community work towards a more sustainable food system.  The policies include, helping: “(1) Support a radical transformation of food systems from production to consumption; (2) Take into account the interconnectedness of different systems and sectors; (3) Address hunger and all forms of malnutrition; and (4) Develop context-specific solutions.”  Implementing these policy changes will require a shift in an understanding of food security around the globe.  The CFS concludes that solutions should be oriented around “food security dimensions of availability, access, utilization and stability” as well as “the centrality of “agency” and sustainability”.”  Instead of viewing food insecurity as a singular issue of food shortages, a holistic approach needs to be taken to improve supply chains, country-specific challenges, and external factors, such as a the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Elise Clark is an affiliate of the Center on Business and Poverty.

Works Cited

Committee on World Food Security (CFS). June 2020. “Food Security and Nutrition: Building a Global Narrative Towards 2030.” https://medium.com/committee-on-world-food-security-cfs/radically-transform-food-systems-for-food-security-and-nutrition-a-new-un-report-urges-bd4b36b0d828 

Hale, Lyric Hughes. September 2020. “Food Inflation threatens lives and economic recovery.” Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/a8c0bb08-96ae-4508-915c-c69a9839fc6c

HLPE. 2020. Food security and nutrition: building a global narrative towards 2030. A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome.

LeBlanc, Adrian Nicole. September 2020. “How Hunger Persists in a Rich Country Like America.” New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/02/magazine/food-security-united-states.html

Otis, John. October 2020. “Venezuela’s Food Chain Is Breaking, and Millions Go Hungry.” The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/venezuelas-food-chain-is-breaking-and-millions-go-hungry-11601544601