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A Cautionary Tale from The Economist on Food Security

The focus of everyone is on public health and how best to recover economies. The concerns about the near-total reduction in global travel are focused on the negative impact on tourism and tertiary education. An additional ‘lens’ however, is needed on food security. The global reduction of all modes of travel also means supply chains and trade agreements falter or are completely disrupted and goods and services are compromised. Nowhere is this more acute than for food. 

“Four-fifths of the planet’s 8bn mouths are fed in part by imports” and this dependence on imports has increased over the last decade. There are intricate, logistical pathways for the movement of actual goods, developed over decades with numerous trade agreements to balance the global supply and demand for food production.

The current pandemic has already resulted in cash strapped farmers unable able to harvest leaving quality fruit and vegetables to rot, they won’t have the funds to prepare the 2021 crops and infections at food processing plants have resulted in closure and breaks in the supply chain.  In time, this will impact food supply and prices, albeit currently stable.  As nations move to shore up their food security, the combined effect of export controls and stockpiling could be devastating to low-income countries.  The UN estimates “people suffering from acute hunger could double to 265 million over the course of this year”, as a result of SARS-CoV-2. The ‘fear’ of weak food security is not just a risk in the low-income countries, developed nations share the same extreme anxiety as evidenced by the panic run on supermarkets at the start of the pandemic in Australia and USA.

The uprisings known as the Arab Spring in 2011 caused significant political upheaval but were also linked to an increase in food prices.  The FAO food price index was at its highest point ever in 2011. At the time, Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute wrote

“If you want to predict where political instability, revolution, coups d’état or interstate warfare will occur, the best factor to keep an eye on is not GDP, the human development index, or energy prices. If I were to pick a single indicator — economic, political, social — that I think will tell us more than any other, it would be the price of grain,”

A cautionary tale indeed. In our globalised world as nations currently move to protect their people, their borders, and their food supplies, to also keep a watchful eye and accept global citizen responsibility for access to food for ALL peoples. To not do so, may cause even further upheaval and instability than we are currently facing.


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