Anti-epidemic measures such as lockdowns disrupted the global supply chain, causing food prices to rise, and the number of people suffering from food shortages doubled.
Developing countries now not only have to deal with the new crown epidemic, but also solve the crisis of rising food prices caused by it. Looking at the world, countless people worry about not having enough food. This social problem has intensified and is triggering a new round of political crisis and immigration issues.
Filling your stomach is a problem
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food prices have risen by nearly one-third in the past year. Coupled with the outbreak of the epidemic, the unemployment rate has risen, making it a problem for many families to fill their stomachs. According to FAO data, in the past year, corn prices have risen by 67%, sugar prices have risen by 60%, and edible oil prices have more than tripled. As of April this year, food prices have been rising for 11 consecutive months, reaching their peak since 2014.
This crisis is naturally inseparable from the new crown virus, but it cannot be completely blamed. Experts say that there have been some fluctuations in food supply last year, but in general, the world’s total food production is basically the same as in the past. The main problem is not the supply, but since the outbreak, the import and export of food have been restricted and logistics costs have risen. Many developing countries are struggling to deal with the epidemic alone, and weak currencies have made import costs even higher. Countries represented by Brazil chose to promote food exports during this period. Because of their lower prices, they are popular in the international market. However, domestic food supplies in these countries have become more tight as a result.
Affected by the epidemic, even if many people did not lose their jobs, their incomes have shrunk a lot. They can only give up buying high-priced raw meat and seasonal vegetables, and choose lower-priced foods such as wheat. These can also fill their stomachs, but the nutritional value is definitely much lower.
The slum situation in Brazil is not optimistic. Chief economist of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) Arif Hussain said: “Today, food prices and shrinking income people while the two phenomena occur together, no doubt is a time bomb, is worrying..”
Life Sonia Dominato has four children in a slum in Brazil. During the epidemic, in order to take care of the seriously ill grandma, she had to quit her job as a cook and went home to take care of the elderly. Her husband used to work part-time, but since the outbreak, he has nothing to do. The family’s financial situation has become particularly tense, and there is no money to buy vegetables and fruits. Sonia watched the child become thinner and thinner day by day, so she could only be anxious. “When I open the refrigerator, I often find that the milk in it is only enough for another day. Every time I encounter this situation, I can’t sleep.” She said worriedly.
Hunger triggers social unrest
In recent decades, political instability in some parts of the world has been related to rising food and fuel prices, the most iconic of which was the Arab Spring in 2011. The situation this year has not yet developed to that level, but rising prices have indeed disrupted the social situation in many countries.
Since the epidemic, Colombian prices have risen, and the people have become dissatisfied. They took to the streets to demonstrate and block roads, which affected the transportation of eggs and other foods. Riots broke out in Sudan due to price increases. In order to quell the riots, the government declared a number of cities into a state of emergency. The food harvest this year is good, but the famine warning system funded by the US government indicates that wheat prices have nearly tripled. The reason is that the currency is weak on the one hand, and transportation costs have risen sharply on the other. At the end of last year, in response to the International Monetary Fund’s initiative on economic system reform, the Sudanese government stopped granting subsidies to food and fuel, which made it worse for consumers.
In the past few months, large numbers of people from Honduras and Guatemala have flocked to the southern border of the United States in an attempt to immigrate illegally. They did so mainly to escape the famine. At the beginning of this year, the food crisis spread in Honduras and Guatemala. According to the report of the United Nations Global Food Crisis Network, compared with 2019, the number of people facing food shortages in Guatemala has increased by 20%, and Honduras has directly tripled. “The situation is severe and the government’s capabilities are quite limited. It is difficult for some countries to take effective measures to fill the stomachs of the poor.” UN official Ivan Aguilas said.
In the face of the epidemic, the residents of the world’s least developed countries have a hard time, especially low-skilled workers and illegal workers. They would have used a large part of their income to buy food, but now that prices have risen, they have suffered the most, and their country is unable to provide practical assistance. For example, the currency of Sierra Leone has depreciated sharply, and the import price of rice has risen by 60%. Although Ethiopia is the largest wheat grower in Africa, domestic wheat prices have risen by as much as 40% in the past few months.
The food crisis is especially a disaster for children.
Compromise on “eating”
According to estimates by the World Bank, in 2020, 124 million people will be affected by the epidemic in extreme poverty (with a daily living cost of less than US$1.9). In 2021, there will be an additional 39 million people, which means that the number of people in extreme poverty in the world will increase to 750 million.
Brazil is the largest country in Latin America. Researchers said that during the epidemic, 40% of Brazilians can only choose to eat less meat and vegetables. In March, the prices of rice and broad beans rose by as much as 60% compared with the same period last year.
When it comes to Argentina, everyone knows that Argentines like to eat beef, but today, Argentines’ beef consumption is at its lowest point in nearly a century. In mid-May, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez stopped beef exports for 30 days, trying to cool the domestic beef price, but it caused strong dissatisfaction among cattle farmers. Pablo Perez, the head of a relief agency in La Plata, said: “People need to fill their stomachs. Nothing is more important than this. Because of the limited food we distribute, people who receive relief food often pay for it. We have to fight for food. We not only have to distribute food, but also have to persuade.”
Countries with better economic conditions are also facing similar crises, such as Chile. Before the epidemic, Chile basically eliminated malnutrition among school-age children, but now this problem has reappeared. The food crisis is especially a disaster for children. Whether children eat well when they are young has a decisive influence on their physical and intellectual development. Experts say that in the past few decades, people have done everything possible to provide adequate nutrition for young children, but these decades of efforts are likely to be in vain due to the epidemic.
Faizan Abasi is the father of three children. He used to work for a real estate agency in Islamabad, and his family was considered to be a middle-to-lower class. But in the spring of 2020, as soon as the quarantine regulations came out, his job was lost. Now he has become a painter, doing odd jobs and paying daily wages. Meat is no longer seen on the table at home, and milk can only be bought at the cheapest price for children. “My children always ask me, is there no meat in the market now?” Abbas said helplessly, “I can’t help it. Meat is too expensive.”