The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the fragility of food security around the world. It has brought more focus to unsustainable farming practices, food security and the fragility of current food production systems. A study by Feed America, claimed that an estimate of 45 million people (1 in 7) living in the United States may have experienced food insecurity last year in 2020. These numbers are seen even more severely in countries that were already experiencing high levels of poverty and food insecurity.

The loss of income and employment as well as disrupted supply chains across the globe has meant a spike in acute hunger. Global food prices saw a 20% rise between January 2020-2021, with the US declaring a national emergency in March. The public raided supermarkets to panic-buy groceries which escalated demand for food. Export and import were disrupted when countries shut their borders in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus. These restrictions led to varying levels of food price inflation and a rise in export tax for many countries.

Dairy Farmers of America have estimated that farmers are dumping as many as 3.7 million gallons (14 million litres) of milk each day.

However, food production was not in short supply. Restrictions in export meant a lot of food was going to waste, meaning food producers faced large losses due to perishable foods going bad. An article in the New York Times claimed that dairy cooperative Dairy Farmers of America have estimated that ‘farmers are dumping as many as 3.7 million gallons (14 million litres) of milk each day’ and ‘a single chicken processor is smashing 750,000 unhatched eggs every week’. Farmers have been forced to destroy excess food surplus that they can no longer sell due to the closure of many food businesses (restaurants, schools, hotels etc).

Although many producers have attempted to donate food surplus to charities and organisations, there is only so much they can salvage due to storage restrictions. The article goes on to state that ‘the costs of harvesting, processing and then transporting produce and milk to food banks or other areas of need would put further financial strain on farms that have seen half of their paying customers disappear’.

Have you read ‘What Is A ‘Conscious Consumer’ & Why It Matters‘?

coronavirus pandemic food security
Food goes to waste amid coronavirus pandemic, unable to be sold. Image – Joe Raedle

People Are More Encouraged To Buy Organic And Local

How Coronavirus Pandemic Impacts Food Security

More and more people say they are transitioning towards more healthy lifestyle habits during lockdowns, specifically in terms of their diet. The US natural & organic products market saw a 9.5% growth in the year 2020 and the UK organic market hit a 10-year high. The market has sky rocketed, with more people understanding the environmental and health benefits of buying local, organic produce.

Buying food from local producers reduces the environmental impact of transporting and storing food. And while many people were not able nor willing to travel to supermarkets during lockdowns, more people were drawn to purchasing veg & fruit boxes instead. A report by the Food Foundation gathered evidence from 101 UK Veg box companies and found that sales had doubled during the pandemic; ‘Sales went up by 111% overall during the six weeks from the end of February to mid-April.’.

Re-establishing Balance In Food Security Through Our Purchasing Choices

How Coronavirus Pandemic Impacts Food Security

Food store supply chains remain intact and are not in short supply. Supermarkets all across the globe are calling for shoppers to remain calm and not panic-buy in order to be considerate to the elder demographic, low-income families and most vulnerable. ‘Stockpiling’ has created a huge issue for the availability of basic necessities, so much so that supermarkets are now enforcing a ‘rationing’ on certain items to limit customers.

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), households only need to stock their food supplies for two weeks. The UK government is encouraging the public to make similar choices, as well as support the most vulnerable in their communities.

Below are a few tips on how you can save money, stay safe, support local business and maintain a sufficient food supply at home:

  • Veg boxes: Consider signing up for a local veg box membership.
  • Support small business: Contact your local ‘zero-waste’ store or natural foods supplier who offer package-free foods (‘bulk bins’). These stores are often small businesses who need the extra support.
  • Plan meals: Design a meal-plan to reduce food waste, and save time in the kitchen and at the store.
  • Your freezer friend: Have a freezer? Freezing fruits, vegetables and bulk-made meals retains the nutritional elements (and saves money!).
  • Buy big: Buy in bulk when possible – Bulk options for the items that you use more often will likely be cheaper than buying them individually.
  • Home-made: If you have the time, prepare meals at home instead of buying ‘ready-made’ meals. People who are less able to prepare meals from scratch are in more need of easy meals, such as less physically-able and elderly people.
  • Shop seasonal: Off-season produce is almost always more expensive and of less quality. Find out what is in-season for your country and purchase local.
  • Reduce your meat intake: Exploring other forms of plant-based protein (such as beans, lentils and nuts) is often cheaper than meat, higher in nutritional value, and has a lower carbon footprint. Analysts agree that rethinking our reliance on animal agriculture will reduce the risk of another ‘zoonotic‘ pandemic in the future.

How We Can Help The Most Vulnerable

How Coronavirus Pandemic Impacts Food Security

With the coronavirus pandemic intensifying the lack of food security, the most vulnerable communities and countries are amongst the worst affected. Relief Web estimates that ‘acute malnutrition is now projected to rise 14%‘, effecting countries that are already at high risk of famine, such as Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and the DRC.

The United Nations World Food Programme estimated that 149 million people across 79 countries faced acute food insecurities in the year 2019. That number is projected to rise to 272 million by the end of 2020.

If you want to support organisations to continue to reach the most vulnerable during the pandemic, below are a few inspirational organisations at the core of tackling acute malnutrition and hunger:

coronavirus pandemic food security
3.9 million children under the age of 5 in South Asia could suffer from ‘wasting’, a life-threatening form of malnutrition. Image – UNICEF / Frank Dejongh

Read Next ⫸ Coronavirus Inspires Sustainable Living Habits