COVID-19: FAO urges G20 to ensure reliable food supply

A food market in Kayonza District, Eastern Rwanda. Countries have been urged to devise strategies for global food systems to continue to work well during the COVID-19 pandemic. / Photo: Dan Nsengiyumva.

The Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has urged G20 leaders to take measures to ensure that global and national markets continue to be a transparent, stable and reliable source of food supply during the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Qu Dongyu made his appeal on Thursday, March 26, 2020 in an online address from Rome to the G20 Extraordinary Virtual Leaders’ Summit on COVID-19.

Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud chaired the Summit which was called to forge a coordinated global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its human and economic implications. 

Globally, more than 537,000 people are confirmed to suffer from COVID-19, over 24,000 have died from it, while more than 123,000 have recovered, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Countries are being forced to order lockdowns as one of the means to curb the pandemic and there are fears that the resultant panic-buying and food stockpiling might cause food-driven inflation.

Qu appealed to the leaders from the G20 countries to devise strategies for global food systems to continue to work well, particularly in relation to access to food for the world’s poor and the most vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting food systems and all dimensions of food security across the world,” Qu said. “No country is immune,” he observed.

“We have to ensure that food value chains are not disrupted and continue to function well and promote the production and availability of diversified, safe and nutritious food for all,” he said. 

Lockdowns could disrupt food availability, accessibility

The FAO Director-General said lockdowns and restrictions on movement could disrupt food production, processing, distribution and sales, both nationally and globally, with the potential to have an “immediate and severe” impact on those restricted by mobility.

“The poor and the vulnerable will be the hardest hit, and governments should strengthen social safety mechanisms to maintain their access to food,” he said.

Referring to the 2007-08 global food price crisis, the Director-General said uncertainty at that time triggered a wave of export restrictions by some countries, while others started importing food aggressively. Qu said this contributed to excessive price volatility, which was damaging for low-income food-deficit countries. 

As economic activities slow down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, access to food will be negatively affected by income reductions and loss of employment.

“We need to make sure that agricultural trade continues to play its important role in contributing to global food security and better nutrition,” Qu said.

“Now, more than ever before, we need to reduce uncertainty and strengthen market transparency through timely and reliable information,” he indicated. 

On Thursday, Reuters – a UK news agency – reported that Global food security concerns are mounting as some governments contemplate restricting the flow of staple foods, while around a fifth of the world’s population is placed on lockdown to fight the widening coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to The New Times earlier this week, Patrick Karangwa, Director-General of Rwanda Agriculture Board said mechanisms to make sure that food supplies run smoothly are important for all countries in terms of food security and trade.

“A country that imposes a lockdown might need to get commodities from another country. If a country is completely locked down, it might go through a crisis. Countries have interdependence one way or another,” Karangwa said.

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