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What are the Affects on the food supplies ?
That strawberry you’re eating while self-isolating from the coronavirus?
Chances are it came from a farm. Or it may have come from a large agricultural operation many, many kilometers away from your home, harvested by hand, possibly by migrant workers brought in from other towns, cities, or even countries.
But can that system continue to bring you strawberries as the global coronavirus pandemic continues? Or bread? Pasta? Cooking oil?
The coronavirus has already sent the global economy into a tailspin, with tens of millions of people being put out of work, as factories from Wuhan to Bavaria to Michigan suspend operations.
What does this mean for the food we eat?
If you live in a rural setting in a temperate climate where the growing season is under way, you might be preparing to eat produce from your backyard or your dacha.
But if you live in a city – as more than half the world’s population does -- chances are you rely on the global food supply chain to make sure your bread and milk, or noodles and bananas, are in stock at the market.
What happens when the people picking our fruits and vegetables get sick or have to quarantine? What happens when the packers who make sure the potatoes and onions are boxed and put onto trucks to be driven to towns and cities can’t work? What happens when wheat can’t be milled or shipped to bakeries to be baked into bread and sold at markets and food stores?
Could we be facing global food shortages in the coming months?
For major industrial nations, whose populations tend to be particularly concentrated in urban and suburban centers, the food supply chains are longer, more complex, and, possibly, more vulnerable.
For less industrial, more rural, and agrarian economies, supply chains tend to be shorter and simpler. If you’re not getting your eggs and milk from chickens and cows and goats in your backyard, for example, then you might be getting them from the farmers in the next village over.
Other commodity goods -- such as wheat, corn, or soybeans -- are sold and shipped in bulk, often over long distances. That means there are more points where the supply chain can be disrupted.
Add to that the fear factor: Consumers fearing the possibility of shortages rush to buy more than they otherwise would, thus causing the shortages they’d feared. Some food markets in Moscow, for example, reported shelves being emptied of ready-to-eat buckwheat.
That’s led some countries to cut back on food exports in a bid to ensure they have enough food for their own citizens.
Vietnam, a major exporter of rice, has suspended exports of that product and other commodities. India, a major producer of rice, like Vietnam, has also suspended exports.
In Kazakhstan, one of the world’s major exporters of wheat, the government has restricted exports of that commodity. Earlier, the government had suspended exports of other goods like onions, sugar, sunflower oil, and even buckwheat – a grain that has emotional resonance for many older Kazakhs and Russians as a way to ward off hunger.
Last month, Russia, the world’s largest wheat producer, suspended exports of processed grains such as buckwheat, rice, and oat flakes.
Restricted supplies have pushed up prices, not only locally but globally in some cases.
In the Boston area, for example, the price of a dozen eggs has tripled in recent weeks, Tillotson said.
Higher prices and supply restrictions have created opportunities for black marketeers. Police in Kyrgyzstan this week detained shipments of milled wheat flour that was being smuggled out of the country in sacks labeled “cement.”
In an unusual public appeal, activists, academics, and a group of executives for some of the world’s biggest food-processing companies warned on April 9 that the number of people going hungry around the world could increase dramatically in the coming months.
“There could not be a more important time in which to keep trade flows open and predictable,” according to the letter addressed to world leaders.
The letter urged food exporters to keep supplying international markets, and also called for supporting populations most at risk of hunger, as well as investing in local production.