International trade for food security

International trade for food security

by QU Dongyu, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Roberto Azevedo, Directors-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO)

30 March 2020 — A joint statement

Millions of people around the world depend on international trade for their food security and livelihoods. As countries move to enact measures aiming to halt the acceleration of the COVID-19 pandemic, care must be taken to minimise potential impacts on the food supply or unintended consequences on global trade and food security. 

Any trade-related measures should not disrupt the food supply chain, such as hampering the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and extending border delays for food containers, which could result in the spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste. Food trade restrictions could also be linked to unjustified concerns on food safety.

Uncertainty about food availability can spark a wave of export restrictions, creating a shortage on the global market. Such reactions can alter the balance between food supply and demand, resulting in price spikes and increased price volatility. We learned from previous crises that such measures are particularly damaging for low-income, food-deficit countries and to the efforts of humanitarian organisations to procure food for those in desperate need.

It is critical that food producers and food workers at processing and retail levels are protected to minimise the spread of the disease within this sector and maintain food supply chains. Consumers, in particular the most vulnerable, must continue to be able to access food within their communities under strict safety requirements. 

We must also ensure that information on food-related trade measures, levels of food production, consumption and stocks, as well as on food prices, is available to all in real time. This reduces uncertainty and allows producers, consumers and traders to make informed decisions. Above all, it helps contain ‘panic buying’ and the hoarding of food and other essential items.

Now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security; food safety and nutrition; as well as improving the general welfare of people around the world. We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition.

This is an excerpt as published on the online platform of WHO.

For more supplementary information on food supply and distribution as well as urban farming topics, check out the articles in FuturArc’s Food issue.

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