The world risks facing a food shortage if authorities fail to manage the continuing coronavirus outbreak properly, the heads of three global agencies have warned.
As governments around the world are trying to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus by putting their populations in lockdown, international trade and food supply chains suffered a severe slowdown.
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Panic-buying by people going into confinement has already demonstrated the fragility of supply chains as supermarket shelves emptied in many countries.
“Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market,” said the joint text signed on Wednesday by Qu Dongyu, head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Roberto Azevedo, director of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible, specially to avoid food shortages” from developing, they said in the statement.
“When acting to protect the health and wellbeing of their citizens, countries should ensure that any trade-related measures do not disrupt the food supply chain,” the statement added.
“Over the longer term confinement orders and travel restrictions risk causing disruptions in agricultural production due to the unavailability of agricultural labour and the inability to get food to markets.
“Such disruptions including hampering the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and extending border delays for food containers, result in the spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste,” said the three leaders.
They also stressed the need to protect employees engaged in food production, processing and distribution, both for their own health and that of others, as well as to maintain food supply chains.
“It is at times like these that more, not less, international cooperation is essential,” they said.
“We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition.”