COVID-19 and the risk to food supply chains: How to respond?



Maximo Torero Cullen| Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Countries have shut down the economy to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Supermarket shelves remain stocked for now. But a protracted pandemic crisis could quickly put a strain on the food supply chains, a complex web of interactions involving farmers, agricultural inputs, processing plants, shipping, retailers and more. The shipping industry is already reporting slowdowns because of port closures, and logistics hurdles could disrupt the supply chains in coming weeks. In order to avoid food shortages, it is imperative that countries keep the food supply chains going.

Unlike the 2007-2008 global food crisis, scarcity is not an issue this time. The supply of staple commodities is functioning well, and the crops need to be transported to where they are needed most. Restricting trade is not only unnecessary, it would hurt producers and consumers and even create panic in the markets. For high-value commodities that require workers (instead of machines) for production, countries must strike a balance between the need to keep production going and the need to protect the workers. As countries combat the coronavirus pandemic, they must also make every effort to keep the gears of their food supply chains moving.


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