This brief article is a first early warning about food insecurity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The danger is rising and deserves further and more in-depth analysis and monitoring.

As the COVID-19 pandemic developed, we immediately added food insecurity on our watch list of issues to monitor (see our COVID-19 section).

To date, mid-May 2020, indications and signals have started accumulating.

We thus estimate that food insecurity must be added on the watchlist of possible threats to monitor. It warrants in-depth strategic foresight and warning analysis at global and country levels. The very high impact that such threat would have, were it to materialise substantially across countries, is sufficient to pay attention to the issue.

Below, we share with members and readers some early indications of the rise of the issue. We then highlight some points that must be considered in the framework of a strategic foresight and warning or risk analysis. These points should also help with monitoring. Finally, we provide a couple of useful online resources.

Nota Bene: Starting to monitor the rise of a possible danger or threat does not mean that the threat will materialise with absolute certainty. It means that the possibility to see that threat becoming a reality increases. Thus the evolution must be followed closely. Actors may start thinking about developing answers and responses accordingly.

Some early indications and signals

Russia

Polina Devitt, “UPDATE 4-Russia will suspend grain exports for 6 weeks if its quota runs out in mid-May“, Reuters, 17 April 2020.

Anatoly Medetsky and Megan Durisin  “Russia Halts Wheat Exports, Deepening Fears of Global Food Shortages” Time Magazine, 27 April 2020

Iran

Maha El Dahan, Parisa Hafezi, Jonathan Saul, “Exclusive: Iran hunts for grains as coronavirus compounds economic woes“, Reuters, 7 May 2020.

ABC.news, “Iran brings in military to battle locusts threatening crops worth billions“, 16 May 2020.

China

Naveen Thukral, Hallie Gu, “China urges food companies to boost supplies on fears of further COVID-19 disruption“, Reuters, 17 May 2020

U.S.

Meredith T. Niles, Farryl Bertmann, Emily H. Belarmino, Thomas Wentworth, Erin Biehl, Roni A. Neff, “The Early Food Insecurity Impacts of COVID-19“, medRxiv 2020.05.09.20096412; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.05.09.20096412

Locusts (Global)

Tzvi Joffre, “Locust swarms threaten Middle East, India, Africa amid COVID-19 outbreak“, Jerusalem Post, 17 May 2020

 Catherine Byaruhanga, “How do you fight a locust invasion amid coronavirus?“, BBC News, 25 April 2020

Yang Wanli, “Authorities call for Pakistan, China to unite on locust swarm“, China Daily, 18 March 2020.

Some important points to consider

The timeframe must be the whole COVID-19 disruption period, not only the short term with current stocks.

Possible logistics bottlenecks (e.g. port shutting down) and supply chain tensions must also be considered.

Estimates solely relying on markets cannot be trusted entirely, even more so considering the COVID-19 context. Markets have shown their incapacity to anticipate properly – as evidenced over the last months.

Impacts of countries’ actions, such as China, ramping up and protecting their supply, especially considering their weight, must be taken into account.

Meat supply must be actively monitored considering the spread of COVID-19 in slaughter houses and the Swine Fever (see Jean-Michel Valantin, “China, the African Swine Fever Pandemics and Geopolitics“, 14 October 2019, and The Midwest Floods, the Trade War and the Swine Flu Pandemic: The Agricultural and Food Super Storm is Here!, 3 June 2019).

Possible climate-change related events taking place during the period must not be forgotten.

Some resources

Famine Early Warning Systems Network: Home (Mainly country of interest to USAID: Central America, Africa, Afghanistan)

Food and Agricultural Organisation of the U.N. (FAO): Notably

Food Export Restrictions Tracker developed by David Laborde (IFPRI)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE


Featured image: “Supermarket shelves that stock dry pasta varieties are almost empty due to panic-buying as the result of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. This was taken at a Woolworths supermarket in Melbourne, Australia.” by Christopher Corneschi / CC BY-SA 4.0.


Published by Dr Helene Lavoix (MSc PhD Lond)

Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the President/CEO of The Red Team Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues. Her current focus is on the COVID-19 Pandemic, methodology of SF&W, radicalisation as well as artificial intelligence and quantum tech and security. She teaches at Master level at SciencesPo-PSIA.

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