The pandemic dealt the food industry multiple blows, from grounded aircraft and border closures preventing produce from reaching markets to migrant labourers who are relied upon for harvests remaining at home. While these problems led to uncertainty – and in some cases temporary shortages – in the global food supplies we rely upon, the problem of food insecurity had already been on the rise around the world, with particular problems in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
There are multiple ways to measure food insecurity – ensuring a reliable supply of food straddles farming, transportation, manufacturing, economics, nutrition and social issues, among others. But the definition set at the 1996 World Food Summit says that "[food security is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life".
It is an ambitious target. Andrew D Jones, a researcher at the climate and ecosystem sciences division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, and his co-authors highlight the importance of "at all times" in the WFS definition, saying that it is often overlooked. Food security can come and go seasonally "as a result of irregular shocks such as weather events, deaths, or regional conflicts", they write in an article for a journal published by the American Society for Nutrition. Covid-19 was one such shock, but not the only one.
Exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, 768 million people (or 10% of the world's population) faced hunger in 2020. The number of people who consume fewer calories than they need has risen by about 118 million compared to 2019, after remaining stable for the five previous years, and having dropped from about 870 million in 2012.