Building a safer and sustainable food system to prepare for a post-pandemic world

The food and beverage industry has made significant headway on several of its longstanding challenges over the years. Working alongside the public sector, the industry has improved food security in several nations, and is also making good progress in reducing the environmental footprint of key production methods. However, the sudden and rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the industry to reconsider its approaches as the pandemic surfaced new challenges and amplified imbalances in the food system, as Matt Kovac, executive director at Food Industry Asia, writes more.

Over the past months, national governments have implemented a range of precautionary measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the measures had been necessary to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic, they have also led to disruptions across the entire food supply chain.

Nationwide lockdowns and intensified border restrictions, for instance, have hindered food production due to limitations placed on the movement of raw materials and labour. With workers staying home and demand for fresh produce dropping dramatically due to the closure of food and beverage establishments, farmers had been left with no choice but to dispose perishable supplies. This has also left millions of seasonal workers without their livelihoods, further aggravating food insecurity among the most vulnerable.

In a joint report Food Industry Asia (FIA) developed with PwC, food companies in Southeast Asia had indicated labour shortages and border restrictions as some of the key challenges they have faced since the implementation of precautionary measures.

The situation today had been exacerbated by an increasing demand for food as consumers rushed to stock up on staples in the initial stages of the outbreak. While it has improved in recent weeks, countries are preparing for another round of panic buying in the event of subsequent waves of infections as we are already observing in countries like Australia.

Furthermore, the United Nations projected that the world population will reach 9.7 billion in 2050, requiring a significant increase in the production of affordable, healthy, and nutritious foods. With over 820 million people already experiencing food insecurity, the adequate handling of supply chains in the face of COVID-19 may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, particularly as food prices are projected to rise.

The full article is published in the latest edition of Food & Beverage Asia Oct/Nov 2020. To read the full article, click here.