Exclusive: multinationals write to G7 and G20 urging leaders to keep borders open to trade and avert global food crisis
Food supplies across the world will be “massively disrupted” by the coronavirus, and unless governments act the number of people suffering chronic hunger could double, some of the world’s biggest food companies have warned.
Unilever, Nestlé and PepsiCo, along with farmers’ organisations, the UN Foundation, academics, and civil society groups, have written to world leaders, calling on them to keep borders open to trade in order to help society’s most vulnerable, and to invest in environmentally sustainable food production.
They urge governments to “take urgent coordinated action to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic turning into a global food and humanitarian crisis”. Maintaining open trade will be key, as will investing in food supply chains and protecting farmers in the developed and developing world, they say.
The G20 is coming under increasing pressure to act: a group of Nobel prize-winning economists and former senior development bank officials wrote to the forum advising that trillions of dollars would be needed to help the developing world cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. This week more than 100 former heads of government, including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy, also called on the G20 to act urgently or risk recurrent outbreaks.
However, little coordinated action has been agreed. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is increasingly worried that, although harvests are good and enough food is being produced to feed the world, export restrictions or tariffs by some governments could create shortages.
“The risk of major interruptions to food supplies over the coming months is growing, especially for low-income net-food-importing countries, many of which are in sub-Saharan Africa,” the food industry leaders warn in their letter.
Ports and borders must be kept open to the food trade, they urge, and big food exporting nations “must make it clear that they will continue to fully supply international markets and customers”.
The business leaders also want investment in local food production, treating farmers, people working in food processing and all parts of the food supply chain as key workers. Small farmers may need access to credit to keep producing, and the letter calls on banks and major companies to help them.