Wealthy nations will have less food security as developing nations cut back on food exports.
Lockdown-related starvation will kill more people than Covid in the developing world. A knock-on effect of the pandemic is the shutting down of farms, forcing poorer countries to ban food exports, and may lead to the end of food security in richer countries.
Developing countries, which normally export much of their food produce to richer nations no longer have the luxury of sending us their food in return for foreign currency. They are looking after their own.
This makes sense: the humanitarian situation across the world is defined by people losing their livelihoods due to lockdowns - not the virus itself.
This will also affect our food supplies in the world’s wealthiest countries, as ‘food protectionism’ becomes the new normal. This is particularly worrying in Britain, where 80 percent of our food is imported but also the US which, for example, imports most of its fruit.
If we can focus on supporting developing economies through the crisis, the worst can be averted. There doesn’t seem to be much awareness of the global impacts though, with each country understandably preoccupied with its own body count and disruption to daily life.
This global food crisis is just beginning. Developing nations are almost all mirroring the response of wealthier countries by imposing strict lockdowns. While this is a sound epidemiological strategy, it has not always been twinned with the economic support offered in Europe and North America.
Bangladesh is a devastating example of a country suffering under lockdown. The country has been shut down since March 26, which included closing the garment factories where millions of Bangladeshis worked to feed their families. Many of Bangladesh’s neediest now fear it is hunger that will kill them before coronavirus does.
While Bangladesh has announced a stimulus package of $8.5 billion to support those who are struggling to afford meals, this may not be enough to support the country’s poorest.
For context, the UK (whose population is twice as small) has pledged $411 billion for business support alone. Without more governmental support, the outlook is bleak for millions of poor Bangladeshis.
The problem is not restricted to Bangladesh. In Pakistan, the country is walking a “tightrope” to balance the lockdown and its effect on the poor.
In Kabul, Afghanistan’s largest city, residents must choose between obeying the lockdown imposed on the city, or trying to feed their families. This is a stark choice, and not one currently faced by most residents in wealthier countries.
The lockdown model is only sustainable in wealthier countries with a comprehensive social security structure to support those without an income. The UK government has said it will pay 80 percent of the wages or profits of its workers, ensuring that millions of Brits have access to money and the ability to purchase food over these trying months. And President Trump has promised a cheque to every American.
This cannot be replicated easily in poorer countries, whose economies are often built on the labour of informal workers.
The pandemic comes amidst a perfect storm of other crises for the global South.
In East Africa, a locust swarm has ravaged through ten countries, potentially putting the food security of 25 million people at risk before coronavirus is even taken into account.
Furthermore, if the pandemic precipitates a global recession as it is forecasted to do, the world’s hunger crisis will only deepen; a one percent decrease in economic growth generally means the number of people in poverty and hunger increases by two percent. Those who were already facing an uphill battle simply to feed themselves now find themselves in an impossible situation.
As developing countries scramble to feed their hungry citizens, more governments are likely to halt food exports in order to prioritise food for their own people.
We have already seen this start to happen — Cambodia is suspending rice exports, and Kazakhstan has restricted exports of certain essential food items until at least mid-April.
Americans and Brits have faced mild shocks to their sense of food security in recent weeks due to panic buying, but this would pale in significance to the effects of a global food supply crisis.
My organisation’s humanitarian work focuses on feeding under-served individuals around the world, from Bangladesh to Sudan. The most basic needs - and what can happen when they are not met - are sometimes forgotten in the whirlwind of global events.
The UN has sought a $2 billion coronavirus fund, but the UN is powerless - and poor - without support from the world’s richest countries. It may seem like this is the one point in history where we should all look after our own, but that is simply not an option when it comes to our food supply.
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