By Nicoletta Batini, James Lomax, and Divya Mehra
Food systems are essential to economic activity because they provide the energy that we need to live and work. However, macroeconomists have long ignored them in the belief that the global agri-food industry, now highly mechanized, subsidized and concentrated, offers all we could wish for when it comes to food.
2020 will be a year of reckoning for the world’s food systems.
2020 will be a year of reckoning for the world’s food systems. In just months, COVID-19 shut down half the globe. Images of panic buying, empty grocery shelves and miles-long queues at food banks have suddenly reminded us how important food systems are in our lives and how imbalanced they have become.
Pandemic-induced runs on food, however, do not merely reflect human behavior during emergencies. They are evidence that the global food supply chain—highly centralized and operating on a just-in-time supply basis—is prone to falter in the face of shocks. In many countries, for example, it became impossible to harvest or package food as workers were blocked at borders or fell sick. Elsewhere, stocks piled up and avalanches of food went to waste because restaurants and bars were closed. In developing countries, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program expect that a “hunger pandemic” and a doubling of people starving may soon eclipse the coronavirus, unless action is taken.
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