By Chuks Oyema-Aziken
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says the Coronavirus pandemic has shown how inaction in tackling climate change can intensify existing food crises.
UNEP in a statement released on Thursday said COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the critical role of rice in ensuring global food security while combating climate change.
The statement said over 3.5 billion people eat rice on it as a staple part of their diet.
The report noted that before COVID-19, the expansive rice industry was already struggling to cope with the impacts of climate change, now the pandemic is ravaging the rice sector, further threatening lives and livelihoods.
“Rice production, prices and international trade are all impacted by the pandemic as well as widespread droughts. Panic buying prompted rice-exporting countries to impose limits or bans on exports, while domestic price caps imposed by some importing countries have led to reduced import volumes.
“Coupled with logistical stoppages resulting from nationwide lockdowns, over half of global rice supply – originating in five key countries – is now at risk. Currently, price surges disproportionately harm poorer households for whom rice is a staple, and where rice can account for almost half of monthly spending.
“Meanwhile, lockdowns also make it harder for farmers to obtain vital inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and field labor. Crops already planted are at risk due to a lack of labor as quarantines have forced migrant workers to return home. Missed windows for planting and harvest will devastate yields.
“Additionally, with the elderly more susceptible to COVID-19, productivity is also under threat, considering the increasing average age of rice farmers today.
“COVID-19 comes at a time when underlying climate change impacts are already compromising food and water security. Southeast Asia, which supplies 50 per cent of the world’s rice exports, is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years.
“The adversities in the rice trade triggered by COVID-19 are an acute preview of what climate change has in store,” said Wyn Ellis, Executive Director of the Sustainable Rice Platform. “But instead of a temporary threat to farmers and food value chains, climate change impacts will be lasting, likely for generations. This pandemic shows us how devastating the consequences of inaction could be and how climate change can intensify existing crises.”
UNEP said Climate change will exacerbate the vulnerabilities of food systems and human health.
“The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is working closely with partners, particularly through the Sustainable Rice Platform, to strengthen smallholder capacity and resilience to current and future shocks.
“As we aim to build back better, farmers will need improved capacity to reduce and prevent far-reaching environmental, social and economic blows of global crises. 3.5 billion people depend on it.”