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COVID-19 Pandemic Halts Global Trade of Rice and Cereals Creating a Food Security Challenge

COVID-19 has shaken the whole world impacting society and the global economy similar to the effect of a world war. Among many economic sectors, the frozen potato products value chain has been confronted with a true drama. The global lock down closing restaurants and halted tourism has all but stopped the consumption of processed frozen potato products. Literally millions of tonnes of potatoes will not be processed this year creating a disastrous financial situation for farmers and processors. Free distribution to food banks, use as animal feed and as a source of green energy will not be sufficient to utilize the mountains of potatoes. The risk of a so called ‘second wave’ of the virus and a possible renewal of the lock down measures will also affect next season’s crop.

The socio-economic problems created by this in Western Europe and parts of North America will be minor compared to the likelihood of food insecurity and famine in many developing countries. The major suppliers of the global staples of rice and cereals, China, Vietnam and Russia, have stopped exports. Many poorer parts of the world that depend on imports of cereals, will be confronted with food shortages and rising prices. Increased outbreaks of famine and more people living in extreme poverty is inevitable.

The World Potato Congress Inc (WPC), a global potato network, is leading numerous local potato driven initiatives in poorer regions of the world, where growing conditions and climate permit. These have resulted in a stronger food security and profitable agricultural entrepreneurship. Along with the International Potato Center, a member of the CGIAR, UN organizations and many NGOs, WPC aggressively supports public/private partnerships, financially supported by external sources, to help local communities create intensive highly productive potato projects. At the 2018 World Potato Congress in Cusco, Peru, the ‘toolbox’ was launched including a “six step approach”. Excellent results are now reported on such scaled entrepreneurial potato projects in Asia, Africa and South America at China launched a national “potato as a staple food strategy” in 2015 at the World Potato Congress near Beijing. This was a large national program illustrating how a country has focused on potatoes for food security.

The “tool box” success stories need to be expanded to include many more smallholder farmers and more ambitious larger scaled potato farming and marketing. Furthermore, we need to develop potato projects in long term refugee camps where people would also have a level of food security.

World Potato Congress is preparing its next global congress in Dublin Ireland, a country with an important potato history (from 30 May – 3 June 2021 – At this event, the need for the world to step into potato driven projects to contribute to food security and an economic sustainable future will be highlighted by the ‘Declaration of Dublin’. The world can’t wait to develop and support local initiatives where possible, because starting today will help alleviate future food insecurity.

Romain COOLS

World Potato Congress inc.
Charlottetown, PEI Canada.

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