People's Stories Livelihood

FAO Director-General urges G20 to ensure food value chains not disrupted during COVID-19 pandemic
by UN Food & Agricultural Organization, agencies
26 Mar. 2020
The Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), QU Dongyu, today urged leaders from the G20 countries to take measures for global food systems to continue to work well, particularly in relation to access to food for the world''s poor and most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He made his appeal in an address to the G20 Leaders Summit on COVID-19. The summit was called to forge a coordinated global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its human and economic implications.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting food systems and all dimensions of food security across the world," Qu said. "No country is immune."
"We have to ensure that food value chains are not disrupted and continue to function well and promote the production and availability of diversified, safe and nutritious food for all," he said.
The Director-General said lockdowns and restrictions on movement could disrupt food production, processing, distribution and sales, both nationally and globally, with the potential to have an "immediate and severe" impact on those restricted by mobility.
"The poor and the vulnerable will be the hardest hit, and governments should strengthen social safety mechanisms to maintain their access to food," he said.
He said global food markets are well supplied but there is growing concern and that measures should be taken to ensure that both national food markets and the world market continue to be a transparent, stable and reliable source of food supply.
Referring to the 2007-08 global food price crisis, the Director-General said uncertainty at that time triggered a wave of export restrictions by some countries, while others started importing food aggressively. Qu said this contributed to excessive price volatility, which was damaging for low-income food-deficit countries.
As economic activities slow down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, access to food will be negatively affected by income reductions and loss of employment.
"We need to make sure that agricultural trade continues to play its important role in contributing to global food security and better nutrition," Qu said.
26 Mar. 2020
Coronavirus measures could cause global food shortage, UN warns. (Guardian News)
Protectionist measures by national governments during the coronavirus crisis could provoke food shortages around the world, the UN’s food body has warned.
Harvests have been good and the outlook for staple crops is promising, but a shortage of field workers brought on by the virus crisis and a move towards protectionism – tariffs and export bans – mean problems could quickly appear in the coming weeks, Maximo Torero, chief economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, told the Guardian.
“The worst that can happen is that governments restrict the flow of food,” he said. “All measures against free trade will be counterproductive. Now is not the time for restrictions or putting in place trade barriers. Now is the time to protect the flow of food around the world.”
Governments must resist calls from some quarters to protect their own food supply by restricting exports, he said, as some have begun to do.
Kazakhstan, for instance, according to a report from Bloomberg, has banned exports of wheat flour, of which it is one of the world’s biggest sources, as well as restrictions on buckwheat and vegetables including onions, carrots and potatoes. Vietnam, the world’s third biggest rice exporter, has temporarily suspended rice export contracts.
Russia, the world’s biggest wheat exporter, may also threaten to restrict exports, as it has done before, and the position of the US is in doubt given Donald Trump’s eagerness for a trade war in other commodities.
“Trade barriers will create extreme volatility,” warned Torero. “They will make the situation worse. That’s what we observe in food crises.”
While the supply of food is functioning well in most countries at present, problems could start to be seen within weeks and intensify over the following two months as key fruit and vegetables come into season. These types of produce often have short ripening times and are highly perishable, and need skilled pickers to work quickly at the right time.
“We need to be careful not to break the food value chain and the logistics or we will be looking at problems with fresh vegetables and fruits soon,” said Torero. “Fruit and vegetables are also very labour intensive, if the labour force is threatened because people can’t move then you have a problem.”
As governments impose lockdowns in countries across the world, recruiting seasonal workers will become impossible unless measures are taken to ensure vital workers can still move around, while preventing the virus from spreading.
“Coronavirus is affecting the labour force and the logistical problems are becoming very important,” said Torero. “We need to have policies in place so the labour force can keep doing their job. Protect people too, but we need the labour force. Major countries have yet to implement these sorts of policies to ensure that food can keep moving.”
Countries with high level of imports, are also likely to see food price rises unless the government takes action or retailers absorb some of the costs, he said.
The most important role governments can play is to keep the food supply chain operating, intervene to ensure there are enough workers, and keep the global food markets from panicking, according to Torero.
“If traders start to become nervous, conditions will get difficult,” he said. “It just needs one big trader to make a decision [to disrupt the supply of staple crops] and that will affect everywhere. Governments must properly regulate, that is their biggest function in this situation.
It’s very important to keep alive the food value chain: intervene to protect the value chain [including the supply of workers] but not to distort the market.”
Individuals can also play an important role, by avoiding panic buying and hoarding of food, and cutting down on food waste. Buying too much fresh farm produce that then goes off before it can be eaten will just exacerbate food supply problems, he said. “Individuals should only buy what they need to avoid food waste.”
Animal welfare is also an issue as border delays caused by the Covid-19 lockdown measures are meaning that livestock journeys are lengthened.
* COVID-19: Potential impact on the world’s poorest people. A World Food Programme analysis of the economic and food security implications of the pandemic (Apr. 2020):

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Almost 25 million jobs could be lost worldwide as a result of COVID-19, says ILO
by International Labour Organization (ILO), ITUC
18 Mar. 2020
An initial assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on the global world of work says the effects will be far-reaching, pushing millions of people into unemployment, underemployment and working poverty, and proposes measures for a decisive, co-ordinated and immediate response.
The economic and labour crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic could increase global unemployment by almost 25 million, according to a new assessment by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
However, if we see an internationally coordinated policy response, as happened in the global financial crisis of 2008/9, then the impact on global unemployment could be significantly lower.
The preliminary assessment note, COVID-19 and the world of work: Impacts and responses , calls for urgent, large-scale and coordinated measures across three pillars: protecting workers in the workplace, stimulating the economy and employment, and supporting jobs and incomes.
These measures include extending social protection, supporting employment retention (i.e. short-time work, paid leave, other subsidies), and financial and tax relief, including for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. In addition, the note proposes fiscal and monetary policy measures, and lending and financial support for specific economic sectors.
Different scenarios
Based on different scenarios for the impact of COVID-19 on global GDP growth, the ILO estimates indicate a rise in global unemployment of between 5.3 million (“low” scenario) and 24.7 million (“high” scenario) from a base level of 188 million in 2019. By comparison, the 2008-9 global financial crisis increased global unemployment by 22 million.
Underemployment is also expected to increase on a large scale, as the economic consequences of the virus outbreak translate into reductions in working hours and wages. Self-employment in developing countries, which often serves to cushion the impact of changes, may not do so this time because of restrictions on the movement of people (e.g. service providers) and goods.
Falls in employment also mean large income losses for workers. The study estimates these as being between USD 860 billion and USD 3.4 trillion by the end of 2020. This will translate into falls in consumption of goods and services, in turn affecting the prospects for businesses and economies.
Working poverty is expected to increase significantly too, as “the strain on incomes resulting from the decline in economic activity will devastate workers close to or below the poverty line”.
The ILO estimates that between 8.8 and 35 million additional people will be in working poverty worldwide, compared to the original estimate for 2020 (which projected a decline of 14 million worldwide).
Swift and coordinated policy responses
“This is no longer only a global health crisis, it is also a major labour market and economic crisis that is having a huge impact on people,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “In 2008, the world presented a united front to address the consequences of the global financial crisis, and the worst was averted. We need that kind of leadership and resolve now,” he added.
The ILO note warns that certain groups will be disproportionately affected by the jobs crisis, which could increase inequality. These include people in less protected and low-paid jobs, particularly youth and older workers. Women and migrants too. The latter are vulnerable due to the lack of social protection and rights, and women tend to be over-represented in low-paid jobs and affected sectors.
“In times of crisis like the current one, we have two key tools that can help mitigate the damage and restore public confidence. Firstly, social dialogue, engaging with workers and employers and their representatives, is vital for building public trust and support for the measures that we need to overcome this crisis.
Secondly, international labour standards provide a tried-and-trusted foundation for policy responses that focus on a recovery that is sustainable and equitable. Everything needs to be done to minimize the damage to people at this difficult time,” concluded Ryder.
12 Mar. 2020
COVID-19: Urgent economic stimulus and workplace measures required. (ITUC)
The International Trade Union Confederation and its Global Unions partners have today called for urgent action by governments and employers on the COVID -19 Crisis, with a statement adopted at the Council of Global Unions (CGU) meeting today in London.
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “Governments must act to put in place urgent economic stimulus plans and workplace measures to protect the health and the income of workers and their families and stabilise the real economy.”
The huge strains on health systems caused by COVID-19 are provoking massive public health challenges. Health workers are on the front line of the economic, social and health impacts of the crisis, and while workers in every sector are exposed to risk, we recognise the courage of health and care workers bearing the immediate brunt of mitigation and treatment.
Urgent economic stimulus packages must include the following: paid sick leave; maintenance of income to cover the cost of housing, electricity, food and other essential items; and extension of social protection for all workers regardless of their employment status.
This is the only way to sustain jobs and the economy, protect wages, the welfare of workers, and small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). The lessons of the 2008/9 crisis must dictate that the income support that working families need and businesses benefit from is the target, and not a bailout of banks and financial institutions.
Governments will need to cooperate and engage with multilateral institutions and monitor the devastation for countries less able to respond – as well as ensure vital aid necessary to guarantee the capacity to deal with the threats posed by COVID-19.
Steven Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Chair of the CGU, said: “We acknowledge that this pandemic is a difficult environment to do business in, but employers must act decisively and responsibly to provide protections for workers throughout their supply chains. This must start with their duty of care to protect workers from transmission of COVID-19 and extend to protecting the wages of all employees regardless of their employment status, guaranteeing sick leave and flexible working conditions during the crisis.
We call on employers to prioritise the rights and welfare of workers as we collectively respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19.”

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