The world has almost entirely shut down as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, in an attempt to slow the spread of infection, a strategy that epidemiologists have been calling “flatten the curve.” However, workers and investors have seen unprecedented economic losses as a result of these measures, and experts are warning that other more serious unintended consequences could be coming soon.
Most notably, the United Nations has recently warned that the trade and supply chain disruptions caused by coronavirus lockdowns around the world could end up causing huge food shortages.
Maximo Torero, the chief economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, told the Guardian that a shortage of workers and more restrictions on trade could lead to a shortage of food in many parts of the world. Another concern is that countries will ban exports on certain important foods and medicines, which has already started to happen.
According to Bloomberg, Kazakhstan has banned exports of wheat flour, which is a major concern because the country is one of the world’s biggest producers. Meanwhile, Vietnam, the world’s third-largest exporter of rice, has temporarily suspended rice export contracts. Below is a map published by Bloomberg, using data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Global Perspective Studies. The map shows which countries are heavily reliant on imports, and those that are the world’s largest food exporters.
“We need to be careful not to break the food value chain and the logistics or we will be looking at problems with fresh vegetables and fruits soon. Fruit and vegetables are also very labour intensive, if the labour force is threatened because people can’t move then you have a problem,” Torero said in a statement.
Another concern is that food can become too expensive for most average people, with purchasing power plummeting in the western world. The value of the dollar is decreasing, and experts worry that inflation could increase as more money is injected into the financial system.
Politicians and business leaders have insisted that the supply chain is strong, and that shelves will continue to be filled to meet the increasing demands at grocery stores. However, there is no doubt that there have been some supply chain disruptions to different parts of the economy since the outbreak began in Wuhan at the start of the year. Wuhan is a city known for producing cars and auto parts, and the shut down had a massive impact on the trade of those goods, if similar lockdowns were to occur in major food-producing centers, there is a very good chance that it could contribute to a global food shortage. Many medical supplies and pharmaceuticals are produced in China, which has contributed to the massive shortage of these supplies currently taking place in the United States.
Unfortunately, many epidemiologists are predicting that the worst has yet to come, especially for places like the United States and the United Kingdom, who were late to take the necessary precautions to contain the virus.