Food insecurity has always existed, but COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue and put a spotlight on it, especially as more Americans struggle to put food on the table.
What is Food Insecurity?
The U.S Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough good for an active, healthy lifestyle.” In 2019, about 1 in 9 Americans suffered the effects of food insecurity, and the coronavirus pandemic has only increased those numbers.
A report prepared by Feeding America explains that the number of people experiencing food insecurity will grow as COVID-19 restrictions cut employment, limit food availability, and reduce the mobility of seniors and those in poor health.
Low-income families face the highest risk of food insecurity due to low wages. However, the economic shutdown necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic has caused income loss for more adults and families than ever before. Households previously able to afford their own groceries have found themselves filing for unemployment and requesting assistance.
In fact, the number of new unemployment claims for the week ending March 21 was the highest number since October 1982, and the record-breaking continued throughout April as unemployment surpassed 14%. Employees in the leisure and hospitality industries were hit the hardest and became most vulnerable to food insecurity.
Even families who can afford their groceries are finding it harder to purchase groceries due to farming challenges brought on by COVID-19.
Crops require intense labor, especially in the planting and harvesting seasons, leaving most farms to rely on migrant populations to perform that work. With the borders closed, migrants can’t reach the farms where they would normally seek seasonal employment. This is leaving farms understaffed during critical harvesting times and creating a ripple effect to grocery stores struggling to stock their shelves.
In other countries, especially Eastern Africa, the issues created by COVID-19 have been worsened by a new generation of locusts destroying vital food supplies for millions of people.
Restrictions on Imports and Exports
These farming challenges have been worsened by countries like Russia restricting food exports in an effort to calm domestic fears of food shortages. Other reports show South American towns blocking trucks from entering for fear of the virus spreading.
The bottom line? Experts fear that more than 265 million people across the globe could become the victims of food insecurity by the end of 2020. That’s almost double the current rate of crisis-level food insecurity. As government leaders across the world continue to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic, food security will no doubt play a major role in their considerations.