Worse, it has driven up to 265 million people to the brink of starvation. Writing for the nonprofit organization Truthout, Johannesburg-based journalist Robin Scher drew from recent reports to shed light on food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic.
One such report was released by the World Food Program (WFP) of the United Nations (UN) last April. Based on that report, some 265 million people living in low and middle-income countries would have faced acute food shortages by the end of 2020 "unless swift action is taken."
WFP's Chief Economist Arif Husain warned at the time that COVID-19 could be "catastrophic" for people who can only eat if they earn a wage.
But just months later, the world saw the worst economic recession since World War II. A UN report published last June found that the combined effect of the coronavirus pandemic and the global recession could disrupt the functioning of entire food systems and eventually result in dire consequences for health and nutrition.
In the United States alone, food insecurity has doubled overall amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a June 2020 report by the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) at Northwestern University in Illinois.
But this still pales in comparison to the effects of COVID-19 on global food security. David Beasley, director of the WFP, warned the UN Security Council last April that the world is on "the brink of a hunger pandemic," with around three dozen countries in danger of experiencing famines in the near future.
The number of chronically hungry people also went up from about 130 million last year to over 800 million in 2021. This is roughly eight times the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to date.
Although concerning, the number of people now facing acute food shortages as a result of the pandemic is just the tip of the iceberg, as it were. According to Scher, the pandemic has exposed the weakness of the industrialized global food system run by Big Ag.
This global food system is reliant on long, complex transportation chains and cross-border travel. And the fact that shortages around the globe primarily came from disruptions to these chains reveals that the current system can be a serious liability during a crisis. This may explain why the system fell the way it did when countries began implementing lockdowns.
But more than just exposing an inefficient system, the pandemic also revealed an unjust one. Approximately a third of all food was wasted globally in 2019 even as nearly 690 million people were undernourished. The pandemic has only underscored this matter, as well as how Big Ag has been driving food insecurity.
April Short, a journalism fellow for the nonprofit organization Independent Media Institute (IMI), argued in a recent article that the "monstrous and unsustainable food industry known as Big Ag" relies on the poor treatment of laborers, wasteful allocation of resources and environmental devastation.
Short said this was made clear by all of the delays and shortages that happened in the U.S. amid the pandemic. She also pointed out the need to restructure how people cultivate and access food in their communities.
With supply chain disruptions comes a shortage of supplies. And with that shortage comes surging food prices. Recently, analysts have warned that record-high prices of feed crops were driving up the costs of feeding animals used for food. Meat producers have had to raise their prices as well to stay profitable.
In fact, meat could soon become the driver of global food inflation, according to a report from Bloomberg. But this could have drastic consequences for millions already struggling to put food on the table.
Experts said feed prices were high because bad weather was shrinking harvests. China also emerged as the top importer of corn out of nowhere, putting out unusually large orders and straining supplies. (Related: China buying up American corn due to flooding, creating food shortage crisis.)
So unless governments act fast, the global food crisis could have severe, long-term impacts on millions around the world, said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Go to Starvation.news to learn more about the global food crisis.