Minimize disruptions to food supply chains caused by border restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent food shortage and hunger, the heads of three global agencies appealed to governments.
The joint call was issued March 31 by the chiefs of the World Trade Organization (WTO), UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO).
“As countries move to enact measures aiming to halt the accelerating COVID-19 pandemic, care must be taken to minimise potential impacts on the food supply or unintended consequences on global trade and food security,” QU Dongyu, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Roberto Azevêdo, directors-general of FAO, WHO and WTO, respectively, said in a joint statement.
Disruptions such as hampering the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and extending border delays for food containers “result in the spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste,” they said.
“If such a scenario were to materialize, it would disrupt the food supply chain, with particularly pronounced consequences for the most vulnerable and food insecure populations,” the leaders added.
Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market. Such reactions can alter the balance between food supply and demand, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility.
Previous crises have shown that such measures are particularly damaging for low-income, food-deficit countries and to the efforts of humanitarian organizations to procure food for those in desperate need, the leaders continued.
“We must prevent the repeat of such damaging measures. It is at times like this that more, not less, international cooperation becomes vital. In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible, specially to avoid food shortage.”
Similarly, food producers and food workers at processing and retail level should also be protected to minimize the spread of the disease within this sector and maintain food supply chains. Consumers must continue to be able to access food within their communities under strict safety requirements.
“We must also ensure that information on food-related trade measures, levels of food production, consumption and stocks, as well as on food prices, is available to all in real time,” they added.
This reduces uncertainty and allows producers, consumers and traders to make informed decisions. Above all, it helps contain ‘panic buying’ and the hoarding of food and other essential items.
“Now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security, food safety and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world,” they said.
“We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition.”