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COVID-19 and its Impacts on Global Food Security: A Chicago Council Online Discussion

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With its Global Food Security Symposium postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Chicago Council held an online discussion about the global food security challenges posed by the pandemic, hosted by The Washington Post’s ‘Business of Food’ reporter, Laura Reily.

Exploring the large-scale impact that COVID-19 has already had on the global food system, the participants covered how agricultural production, supply chains, markets, and labour forces have all been affected and are further at risk.

The discussion also touched on how companies are responding to rising consumer demands, the lasting impacts on global food security, and hopes for food system changes once the pandemic is over.

Implications for smallholder farmers in the global south were also explored – for example, in relation to rising production costs, the need for continued access to inputs and finance, the impacts of reduced demand for certain products such as coffee, and the domino effect that such changes are having all along the value chain.

Panellist Sanjeev Krishnan, Chief Investing Office and Managing Director of S2G Ventures, talked about the impact he sees the global outbreak having on supply and demand, as well as concerns surrounding labour availability, border closures, export restrictions and food inflation.

He also expressed optimism about public appetite for continued progress in appreciating and improving global food systems in the aftermath of the pandemic, noting how challenges such as availability, resilience, sustainability and nutrition have been in the spotlight as a result.

He commented: “We need to remember the folks that are really on the front lines of this from a food production perspective and supply chain perspective, as they’re taking risks right now just to make sure we’re all fed.”

Another panellist, Sara Menker, who is CEO and Founder of Gro Intelligence, questioned how the inventory drawdown that has occurred across different countries will be rebalanced and logistical bottlenecks addressed. She commented on the issues of labour shortage and perishability when it comes to supplying fresh produce, and how this could lead to potential shifts in consumer mindsets around seasonal eating, for instance.

Menker also explored the importance of information and how better data within the agricultural industry could help improve what she called “choke points” in food systems. She also noted that the pandemic has exposed a realisation that there is a lot that we can live without, and that she hopes it gives people a greater appreciation for what it takes to deliver food to the population day after day.

The full discussion is available to view on the Chicago Council’s website. The new date for the Global Food Security Symposium is still undecided (as of publication date).

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