Covid-19 has reminded humanity of the critical importance of a strong and functioning food system. With a quarter of a billion people facing acute hunger by the end of the year, bold collective action cannot wait.
Global hunger has been on an indefensible rise for many years, and Asia—home to nearly half a billion of the world’s hungry and more than half of the world’s malnourished children—has not been spared. While global food systems have long been under stress, the Covid-19 pandemic pushed them to their breaking point, and the imperative to act has never been more important.
In a matter of weeks, Covid-19 laid bare the vulnerabilities in global food security, compounding previous levels of hunger with job losses, supply chain disruptions and declines in income. This has had a disproportionate impact on poor and vulnerable communities.
On the supply side, the price of staple food across the region, such as rice and wheat, was driven up by disruptions to production and distribution combined with panic buying. For example, retail prices of rice in Thailand rose about 20 per cent on average in January to April 2020 compared with the same months of 2019.
On the demand side, the pandemic has affected food consumption by eroding household incomes. Those working in the informal sector in the region (almost seven in 10 workers) are at particular risk. Their income is estimated to have fallen 22 per cent in the first month of the Covid-19 crisis, causing relative poverty rates to rise to 36 per cent from 22 per cent before the crisis.