COVID-19

Global food prices rise as countries stockpile amid worsening pandemic

Scott Tong Oct 16, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Empty shelves at a grocery store in Los Angeles in March. One expert said the U.S. is probably among the worst of developed countries when it comes to food security. Mario Tama/Getty Images
COVID-19

Global food prices rise as countries stockpile amid worsening pandemic

Scott Tong Oct 16, 2020
Empty shelves at a grocery store in Los Angeles in March. One expert said the U.S. is probably among the worst of developed countries when it comes to food security. Mario Tama/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

A number of countries, including China, are stockpiling for an uncertain pandemic season amid concerns over whether the global supply chain for food can remain intact as COVID-19 cases rise worldwide.

World food prices have been rising for four straight months, according to a United Nations price index. Countries importing grains to boost their pandemic stockpiles include Egypt, Jordan, Taiwan and others.

“China comes to mind, as they’ve taken on a massive restocking program,” said Michael Magdovitz, food and agriculture analyst at Rabobank. “But also India. Countries may increase their buffers to avoid any supply-side issues,” such as lockdowns or border closures should the pandemic worsen.

In times of uncertainty, people are more likely to hoard, according to Stephanie Preston, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

“I think people are trying to protect their own interests, which in some ways is rational,” Preston said. “Even if it can cause what they call a ‘commons problem,’ where then there’s not enough for everybody.”

When the pandemic first hit, governments and food security authorities expressed concerns about food protectionism. That didn’t come to pass globally.

Still, bottlenecks have turned up in developing countries. In South Africa, workers were banned from traveling to a packing plant for citrus, said Thomas Reardon, agricultural economist at Michigan State University.

“Also, because wood was not classed as an essential item, the wood was not coming in to make packing crates, so the fruit could not be packed,” Reardon said.

Globally, the prices of grain and meat continue to rise, just as more and more people can’t afford them given widespread job losses. Sherman Robinson, trade scholar at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said food insecurity is showing up everywhere.

“It’s widespread across developing countries,” Robinson said. “In the developed countries, it really depends on how good your social safety net is. So in the U.S. case, we’re probably among the worst of the developed countries.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

Read More

Collapse

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.