COVID worsens world hunger crisis

Canadian Foodgrains Bank says pandemic has been as much an economic crisis as health crisis in the developing world

People in the developed world are eagerly awaiting vaccination dates and yearning for the pandemic shackles to come off.

But for hundreds of millions of people in the developing world, where most of humanity lives, little has changed in terms of fear, anxiety and struggle.

The western world might soon be back to “normal,” but across most of the world, food systems are broken, hobbled and unable to supply vast numbers of people with a reliable flow of food.

“As hard as it has been for Canadians, it has been far harder for those in the (majority of the) world who do not have (emergency government pandemic relief), who do not have wage benefits, who do not have some of the billions of dollars that we have been able to put into this,” said Andy Harrington, the new executive director of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

As the pandemic broke a year ago, world hunger officials scrambled to deal with the implications of the global disruptions to trade, food movement and human movement that the United Nations believed endangered an extra 270 million people, which would have been an 82 percent increase of the number of people facing hunger.

Border closures, local and regional lockdowns, hoarding and other actions caused many food supply chains to break, stranding food in some places while leaving other places with empty shelves and rapidly depleting local supplies.

Farming families were often blocked from travelling to their fields to plant, tend or harvest crops. Farm workers were often banned from travelling to agricultural jobs.

Workers and families who did not have work or crops to sell often ended with little money, so they couldn’t buy whatever food was locally available. Food prices surged as supplies fell.

Money from relatives in other countries, often those who worked on farms in foreign countries, commonly fell short of pre-pandemic remittances as work everywhere became difficult and their own food became more expensive.

“If you didn’t get out of your house, if you didn’t harvest your crops, if you didn’t go to market, you moved into acute food insecurity,” said Harrington.

“They don’t have the social safety net networks we have.”

Hunger spread across parts of the developing world in many ways.

“We tend to think of the pandemic as a health crisis, but in the majority (of the) world it has been even more of an economic crisis,” said Harrington.

“Within days we saw communities move into… acute food security.”

The foodgrains bank and other hunger-focused aid organizations moved quickly to swing some of its efforts away from long-term development to immediate hunger relief. In that it found support from the federal government and its thousands of supporters across Canada.

That supporter base is heavily farm and rural based, with the CFGB being the most visible body through which farm and rural communities raise money and support overseas development.

“We have been astounded at the response of our supporters and partners across the country,” said Harrington.

Not only did money come in for special donations, but the regular growing projects, where crops are grown for overseas relief, weren’t prevented, as feared by some.

“We were able to get seed into the ground,” said Harrington.

While people in Canada and other developed countries begin to look beyond the pandemic, Harrington hopes Canadians and foodgrains bank supporters remember that hundreds of millions of people still need help.

“If anything has ever shown that we’re just in one world and there’s no boundaries any more, the pandemic has shown that.”

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