The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization releases a Q&A on how COVID-19 will affect the global food market and food security. ( Courtesy fao.org/home )

By April and May, the logistics of transporting fresh fruit and vegetables will be in jeopardy from the COVID-19 pandemic more than the production of fresh produce, according to the United Nations.

“Transport restrictions and quarantine measures are likely to impede farmers’ access to markets, curbing their productive capacities and hindering them from selling their produce,” according to a 10-point question-and-answer report provided by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. “Shortages of labor could disrupt production and processing of food, notably for labor-intensive crops.”

There could also be transport route blockages for fresh food supply chains, resulting in more food loss and waste.

Prices are more likely to spike for high value commodities such as meat, in the very short term, and perishable commodities, according to the statement.

Food demand is “generally inelastic,” although dietary patterns may change. 

“There is a possibility of a disproportionately larger decline in meat consumption (as a result of fears – not science-based – that animals might be hosts of the virus) and other higher-valued products like fruits and vegetables (which are likely to cause price slumps),” the statement said.

At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a significant increase in demand, unlike the shrinking demand during the 2008 financial crisis, which caused people to spend less, so sales dropped and then production dipped.

However, “fear of contagion can translate in reduced visits to food markets, and we expect to see a shift in how people buy and consume food - lower restaurant traffic, increased e-commerce deliveries (as evidenced in China), and a rise in eating at home,” the food and agriculture organization.

The policies that countries have adopted to reduce the spread of the disease can affect agricultural production and trade with higher controls on cargo vessels, and the risk of jeopardizing shipping activities.

And measures affecting the free movement of people, such as seasonal workers, might have an impact on agricultural production, which can influence global market prices.

And finally, extra precautions to guarantee acceptable health standards in food factories may slow down production.

What are the organization’s recommendations to mitigate the risks of the pandemic on food security and nutrition?

  1. Countries should meet the immediate food needs of their vulnerable populations;
  2. Countries should boost their social protection programs; and
  3. Countries should adjust their cost to trade and tax policies.

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