Counting the Cost

Will the coronavirus pandemic lead to a food crisis?

Will the coronavirus pandemic lead to food shortages? And can the EU rescue its weakest states?

From a health crisis to a food crisis, the coronavirus pandemic is upending the world as we know it. The United Nations’s World Food Programme (WFP) is warning of multiple famines “of biblical proportions” as tens of millions of people are plunged into starvation.

Long before the pandemic, the agency had been warning world leaders that 2020 would bring “the worst humanitarian crisis since world war two”. 

An estimated 135 million people face starvation and that could double to 265 million by the end of the year. It blames the perfect storm, the wars in Yemen and Syria, natural disasters and changing weather patterns. 

At particular risk are refugees and informal workers. For example, it is estimated that about 136 million people in India working in the non-agriculture sector are at immediate risk of losing their jobs.

With more than two billion people under lockdown, supply chains have been disrupted. But that disruption is not just in emerging and developing markets. 

The rapid collapse of economic activity has led to more than 30 million people applying for unemployment benefits in the United States and a sharp increase in demand at American food banks, according to food charities. And yet, farmers are destroying produce, dumping milk and culling livestock despite grocery stores struggling to stock shelves.

While rich nations have the financial muscle to see themselves through the crisis, it is the low income and developing nations that could see past economic gains disappear.

Maximo Torero, the chief economist of the Food and Agriculture Organization, explains what kind of effect the pandemic might have on the economies of developing nations. 

The spread of the virus among workers at US meat processing plants has raised concerns of food shortages. But, President Donald Trump passed an order to keep them open, which has been criticised by unions and some investors. 

Maria Lettini, the executive director of FAIRR, a $20 trillion investor group, explained how Trump’s decision might sow the seeds for future pandemics. 

Loan or grants?

European Union nations hit hard by the coronavirus hope to convince others to provide them with grants rather than loans as they plan a route to recovery.

Italy and Spain would like to avoid taking loans, which would increase their debt burden. 

Italy’s debt currently stands at 134.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and that number is expected to rise to 155.7 percent due to the crisis. 

European nations have spent more than 1.8 trillion euros ($1.99 trillion) on tackling the pandemic. But the economy is expected to contract by 7.5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. The EU has now agreed to a one trillion-euro ($1.11 trillion) recovery fund to help nations. 

Lorenzo Codogno, chief economist at Macro Advisors, comments on the deal and Michael Reid, senior editor at the Economist, shares his thoughts with Al Jazeera.