Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy to United Nations Secretary-General for Food Systems Photo: The Guardian UK

Measures governments should apply to curb global food shortages amid COVID-19: UN Envoy

*A Special Envoy to United Nations Secretary-General for the food systems summit 2021 discloses that food price rises and scarcity mean people in poverty in countries around the world are in more danger now than last year

Alexander Davis | ConsumerConnect

Throwing more light on the risk of food insecurity, Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy to United Nations Secretary-General for the food systems, has warned that peoples living in poverty around the world are in danger of food shortages as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis continues, with the risk worse in 2021 than in the period shortly after the pandemic began.

Kalibata, said: “Food systems have contracted, because of COVID-19. And food has become more expensive and, in some places, out of reach for people.

“Food is looking more challenging this year than last year.”

The UN Special Envoy stated that many of the problems that experts predicted last year have been deferred, not solved, The Guardian UK report said.

She said: “The main impact has been on markets, the shutdown of food markets. The lockdown has closed markets and that makes it very difficult for farmers.

“Last year, many countries used whatever opportunity they had to keep their food systems going. That is more difficult now. Food prices have increased significantly in some places.”

Kalibata also highlighted the plight of African countries in particular, several of which are facing serious food price rises and shortages, exacerbated by problems such as drought predicted in east Africa, likely to affect northern Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. According to her, “this year, the predicted drought cycle is much more serious than last year.”

She noted that other countries, such as Thailand, are also seeing prices rise, as “the price of food is increasing in some cases very fast, which is really challenging.”

As the Coronavirus pandemic and the global economic crisis it has provoked continue, more countries are likely to be drawn into difficulties, said she.

The UN Special Envoy added “we have not been able to strengthen our reserves. Now, they are under pressure.”

Food systems largely held up last year, with some notable exceptions, after governments heeded early UN warnings against closing their borders or setting tariffs, and as harvests were generally good, according to Kalibata.

However, those successes may have disguised the fact that many underlying problems have grown worse over the past year, as people have exhausted their reserves of food, cash and family support and now are facing a long crisis without backup.

She further explained that “we are facing a greater threat this year, as economies have shrunk. That is happening across the globe, everywhere.

“Countries are in a very distressed situation, and it is not getting easier – it is getting more difficult. Some countries have hung on, but for how long?”

“Governments had to plan for a longer crisis than they may have originally envisaged, and that dealing with Covid-19 and its economic impacts could take at least five years. “Mistake number one was that we thought (the crisis) would be short, we thought it could be six months.” she said.

The UN Special Envoy said: “I’m not complaining about lockdowns; they are very important to protect people, but they must not be indefinite.”

Keeping food moving, from areas of production to distribution hubs and consumption centres, and across borders, must be a priority, she said.

Kalibata urged that the focus of governments must also shift to the impacts on the wider economy, as people around the world are facing greater hardship as leading economies struggled with recession.

She stated: “People are losing their jobs. That’s now the most important thing. The economy is shrinking and that is impacting millions of people.”

Governments and agencies should not to let down their guard as vaccines are rolled out and lockdowns eased in many places.

“Social protection is very important. We also need to keep prices down, we need to keep food available and we need to strengthen markets, ensure markets are working despite the crisis.

“The contractions in the economy are affecting the food environment,” she added.

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