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COVID-19: FAO urges stakeholders to keep global food chains alive

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Mr Qu Dongyu, the Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), of the United Nations has stressed the need to keep global food chains alive amidst the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world.

Dongyu said this on Monday in a statement made available to News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja through the National Commutation Officer Mr David Tsokar.

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The statement said COVID-19 pandemic was putting enormous strains on the public health systems around the world, and millions of people in the world’s most advanced economies are in some form of quarantine.

“We know the human toll will be high, and that massive efforts to turn the tide carry a heavy economic cost.

“To reduce the risk of an even greater toll – shortage of food for millions, even in affluent countries – the world must take immediate actions to minimise disruptions to food supply chains.”

According to the statement, a globally coordinated and coherent response was needed to prevent the public health crisis from triggering a food crisis in which people cannot find or afford food.

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

“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.’’

According to the statement, the COVID-19 outbreak, with all the accompanying closures and lockdowns, has created logistical bottlenecks that ricochet across the long value chains of the modern global economy.

Restrictions of movement, as well as basic aversion behavior by workers, may impede farmers from farming and food processors who handle most agricultural products from processing.

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Shortage of fertilizers, veterinary medicines and other input could also affect agricultural production.

Closures of restaurants and less frequent grocery shopping diminish demand for fresh produce and fisheries products.

These will affect producers and suppliers, especially smallholder farmers, with long-term consequences for the world’s increasingly urbanised population, be they in Manhattan or Manila.

Uncertainty about food availability can induce policymakers to implement trade restrictive measures in order to safeguard national food security.

Given the experience of the 2007-2008 global food price crisis, we know that such measures can only exacerbate the situation.

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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.

It stated that in 2007-2008, these immediate measures proved extremely damaging, especially for low income food deficit countries and to the efforts of humanitarian organisations to procure supplies for the needy and vulnerable.

The statement urged that the world learn from recent past and not make the same mistakes twice, adding that Policy makers must take care to avoid accidentally tightening food-supply conditions.

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It said that every country faces its own challenges, and there should be collaboration between governments and the full gamut of sectors and stakeholders because the experience was a global problem that required a global response.

“We must ensure that food markets are functioning properly and that information on prices, production, consumption and stocks of food is 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 behavior in global food markets.

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