The economic and health crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have placed governments in the difficult position of balancing restrictions on mobility with the guarantee of access to basic services. And while the world has not faced a severe food shortage, there have been disruptions to international food security.
Two out of three households have changed their diet due to confinement
This is the main conclusion reached by a group of researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), who publish their concerns in the magazine Science. “The longer the crisis lasts, the more complicated the situation will be. The question is: how much more can the system hold? “, He asks Rob Vos, director of Markets, Commerce and Institutions of IFPRI and one of the authors of the article, entitled How Global Responses to COVID-19 Threaten Global Food Security.
As detailed by this researcher to SINC, at the moment there is not a large food shortage. “What we are perceiving is a significant increase in unsafety food, “he says.
A clear example of this trend can be seen in developed countries, where the queues of people without resources who go to food banks and soup kitchens increase. Affected families are forced to modify their diets, opting for basic products, more affordable, but also less nutritious. “The decrease in income puts access to food at risk,” the publication states.
Effects in the poorest countries
For IFPRI researchers, the pandemic is affecting four pillars of food security: access to food, its availability, its use and its stability.
In his most recent forecast, the International Monetary Fund predicts one 5% drop of the world economy for this year. Despite the fact that its economic consequences hit the epicenters of the pandemic (China, Europe and the United States) hardest, they also indirectly affect the countries with the lowest incomes by reducing trade, the export of oil and other basic products.
According to the article, more than 90 million people they could fall into extreme poverty. “People in extreme poverty do not have enough resources to buy the food they need to avoid hunger and malnutrition,” the publication describes.
The researchers also claim that poor households spend 70% of their income on food, which makes their food security “especially vulnerable” to income shocks.
“Many people are going to fall into poverty and will not be able to buy food. Before, the causes that most aggravated this problem were armed conflicts or weather problems. Now it is COVID-19 “, says this person in charge.
Changes in eating habits caused by a lack of income and purchasing power are the most worrisome to IFPRI researchers. “We have seen that foods like fruits, vegetables and meats have become more expensive, leading people with fewer resources to opt for more basic foods, such as wheat, corn or soybeans, which provide calories, but less nutrients”, tells SINC Rob Vos. “If people only consume this type of food, the risk of adverse health consequences increases, as well as the risk of contracting COVID-19”.
According to an analysis carried out by this institute in 300,000 households, poor people invest more than a quarter of their total income in basic foods, while non-poor households they only spend 14%.
Increased risk in fruits and vegetables
Another problem caused by the pandemic is the decrease in production and food availability. “In almost all the big producing countries, like the United States, Russia or those of South America, the exploitations of basic products are mechanized and there is a great social distancing. In those cases, the impact of COVID-19 is not so great, “Vos explains to this agency.
“The problems,” he continues, “have arisen where there has been more labor density, in areas where people work without safety distances, mainly in fruit and vegetable crops,” the researcher details. It is in production centers where human hands are required. where a greater number of outbreaks have been concentrated, precisely, this factor has influenced the lack of availability and the rise in the price of their products.
According to the article, more than 30,000 workers in food processing plants they have contracted COVID-19 only in Europe and the United States, seriously disrupting supply chains.
Restrictions on mobility, present in almost all countries, have also had a negative effect on food. Although governments reacted quickly with a high priority to ensuring the production and supply of basic foods, traditional food value chains have been outdated. One of the biggest ills it has generated has been the food waste.
“In many areas of Africa, where they do not have storage systems or refrigerated transport, they used to carry out transport at night, so as not to spoil food. These months, with curfews, they had no other choice but to carry them out during the day, causing a large amount of food to be wasted, “the researcher exemplifies.
The fear of opening borders
The closing of trade borders has also generated destabilizations in the price of food. While in Spain, according to IPC data, almost only the price of fruits, vegetables and vegetables has risen, in international markets products such as rice they increased their price about 20% during the first four months of the year. This effect, although it can sometimes benefit farmers, “tends to harm everyone, because it induces uncertainty in supply, eliminating investments that can improve productivity or the quality of food,” explains the report.
As in Spain, many crops are maintained thanks to labor from other countries. While in our case they do it from North Africa or South America, In the United States they do it from Mexico and other countries in Central America.
“When COVID-19 arrived, 40 million people lost their jobs in the United States, but did not offer to work in the fields. The peasants, who were desperate, put a lot of pressure so that the workers of Central America could access the country. These workers do not have good working conditions and, therefore, they are becoming infected, “says Vos.” When there is an economic recession, there are typically complaints about the immigrant population. It varies little from country to country, “he believes.
To alleviate these problems, IFPRI researchers agree that the solutions are to ensure the production and distribution of food, guaranteeing the worker safety. Compliance with these measures depends on financial resources. “It will be important that high-income countries and international organizations contribute as much as they can to support poor countries with financial needs,” they say.