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FAO warns against food supply chain disruption as countries lock down

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To reduce the risk of food shortage for millions, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned countries to take immediate actions to minimize disruptions to supply chains as keeping global food chains alive is crucial amid COVID-19 crisis.

The UN body said a globally coordinated and coherent response is needed to prevent this public health crisis from triggering a food crisis in which people cannot find or afford food.

For now, COVID-19 has not entailed any strain on food security, despite anecdotal reports of crowded supermarket sieges.

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While there’s no need for panic – there is enough supply of food in the world to feed everyone – we must face the challenge: an enormous risk that food may not be made available where it is needed.

FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu in an op-ed published on the Organisation’s website worried that restrictions of movement, as well as basic aversion behaviour by workers, may impede farmers from farming and food processors (who handle most agricultural products) from processing, adding that shortage of fertilizers, veterinary medicines and other input could also affect agricultural production.

He said although uncertainty about food availability can induce policymakers to implement trade-restrictive measures in order to safeguard national food security, but “with experience of the 2007-2008 global food price crisis, we know that such measures can only exacerbate the situation”.

Dongyu warned that export restrictions put in place by exporting countries to increase food availability domestically could lead to serious disruptions in the world food market, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility.

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Stressing the need for countries to learn from our recent past and not make the same mistakes twice, he said: “In 2007-2008, these immediate measures proved extremely damaging, especially for low-income food-deficit countries leading to efforts by humanitarian organizations to procure supplies for the needy and vulnerable”.

The UN organization warned policymakers to take care to avoid accidentally tightening food-supply conditions.

Mentioning the need for a global response to the global challenge, he stressed the need for collaborations between governments and the full gamut of stakeholders.

“We must ensure that food markets are functioning properly and that information on prices, production, consumption and stocks of food are available to all in real-time. This approach will reduce uncertainty and allow producers, consumers, traders and processors to make informed decisions and to contain unwarranted panic behaviour in global food markets,” he stated.

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Pointing out that the health impacts of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic on some of the poorest countries are still unknown, he said that any ensuing food crisis as a result of poor policymaking would be a humanitarian disaster that we can avert.

“We already have 113 million people experiencing acute hunger; in sub-Saharan Africa, a quarter of the population is undernourished. Any disruptions to food supply chains will intensify both human suffering and the challenge of reducing hunger around the world.”

” We must do everything possible to not let that happen. Prevention costs less. Global markets are critical for smoothening supply and demand shocks across countries and regions, and we need to work together to ensure that disruptions of food supply chains are minimized as much as possible,” he stated.

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