Mohamed Ibrahim Bassyouni
2020 / 4 / 26
Countries must join forces to avoid the global food crisis of COVID-19. Few countries have realized that their procedures must be modified to contain the virus and economic buffer shocks to keep food flowing. Without food, there can be no health. The political pre-script-ions are straightforward, and isolation cannot form any part of it. Countries must work together.
In India, farmers feed strawberries to cows because they cannot transport fruit to urban markets. In Peru, producers dump tons of white cocoa into landfills because the restaurants and hotels you buy are usually closed. In the United States and Canada, farmers were forced to pour milk for the same reason. Legions of migrant workers from Eastern Europe and North Africa trapped at the border, instead of harvesting farms in France, Germany, and Italy. The United States, Canada, and Australia rely heavily on seasonal farm workers unable to travel due to virus restrictions, including some embassies suspending routine visa services. There are also concerns that foreign workers can enter cases. So crops rot in the fields.
Fortunately, cereal crops are expected to be good this year. Indeed, the global stock of corn is more than double that of 2007 and 2008, when severe drought caused food shortages in major exporting countries, leading to a global food crisis. The stocks of rice and soybeans increased during this period by about 80% and 40%, respectively.
But this will not help avoid food shortages if countries cannot move food from where it is produced to where it is most needed. Ships loaded with grains, fresh fruits and vegetables are docked late and their crews cannot get off. So perishable items, unable to reach wholesale markets in time, will be lost. Wheat prices jumped 8% and rice prices 25% compared to March prices last year. Meanwhile, panic all over the world creates more waste and affects the quality of diets as people struggle to get fresh food. Global action on food was a challenge even before COVID-19. Countries and regions are suffering from the epidemic at different times and in different ways - from China to Europe, the United States, India, and Africa now - the spirit of the countries working for themselves only. This led to chaotic chain reactions.
Earlier this month, Russia, the world s largest wheat exporter, set exports of wheat for three months to ensure that domestic supplies were sufficient. Although the outage is expected to be minimal. It was a decision driven by a host of events, including a sharp in oil prices - this weakened the ruble against the dollar, which in turn resulted in higher domestic prices for wheat. It is the same path that Vietnam took with rice in March, which is why rice prices have soared.
The epidemic has encouraged controversial arguments - such as the open borders that enabled the virus to spread, that refugees and migrants must be kept away, and outsourcing must end. But such political stances ignore how much countries depend on each other for essential ingredients, pesticides, fertilizers, animal feed, employees, and expertise.
What happens next depends on whether countries resist isolationist pressure and a commitment not to impose export restrictions in response to the epidemic. Instead, they should agree to abolish tariffs and taxes to offset the local price increases caused by the devaluation. They should appoint port and farm workers as basic workers, protect the health of these people and ensure that they can travel and continue working.
The highlight of the epidemic is that the world must use its land and water resources in a sustainable manner, to grow basic and nutritious food in a more flexible manner. One way to do this is to reduce food loss. The world wastes about -$- 400 billion in food annually - a sum that can feed about 1.26 billion people annually.