World faces food shortages if extreme weather ruins harvests amid Covid-19

SUPPLY chains that produce and transport the world's food are being squeezed amid the coronavirus pandemic

05 May 2020 - 19:00

SUPPLY chains that produce and transport the world's food are being squeezed amid the coronavirus pandemic. This situation is gathering more urgency as we approach a period of extreme weather that devastates harvests and could force countries to deploy more protectionist food policies, creating a ripple effect through global trade.

Concerns over access to wheat and other staples have already led nations including Kazakhstan and Russia to introduce export restrictions, sparking fears of a global food crisis not seen for a decade. So far the curbs have been limited to a handful of nations imposing short-term measures, reported Bloomberg.

There is cause for concern. Drier weather has affected key growing regions in the Black Sea, Argentina and across Europe. Behind the day-to-day weather concerns, global warming is playing an ever greater role in determining the strength of food supplies. The threat of extreme drought or torrential downpours only makes it more difficult to predict what will happen.

'Climate change is the elephant in the room in all these discussions,' said Chatham House's research director in emerging risks Tim Benton at the London office.

For now, supplies are ample and nobody's talking about any harvest failures. Yet the threat remains that the situation could quickly shift from being comfortable to dire.

Those worries are starting to surface as a prolonged dry period in top wheat producer Russia is threatening to damage this year's crop. Meanwhile in Romania, a severe drought is eroding expectations for a bigger crop this year.

In neighbouring Ukraine, water reserves are at their lowest in six years, while France and other grain producers in Europe also face drought this year. Adding to that, dryness in Argentina is increasing pressure on crop exporters grappling with the lowest water levels since 1989 on the Parana River.

Today, wheat supplies are still abundant thanks to last year's bumper harvests. Consumers may be hoarding staples like flour and bread, but once the panic buying ends, the world will probably still have a huge stash of wheat, the International Grains Council said.

While global wheat reserves are projected to rise to an all-time high this season, not all the supplies are available for export, with half of global stockpiles held in China, according to CRM AgriCommodities director Benjamin Bodart in Newmarket, England.

'We simply cannot afford a drought this year,' he said.

Parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans all hit the record books for warmth last month, according to the US National Centres for Environmental Information. The high temperatures could offer clues on the ferocity of the Atlantic hurricane season, the eruption of wildfires from the Amazon region to Australia, and whether the record heat and severe thunderstorms raking the southern US will continue.

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