The coronavirus pandemic is causing a triple food crisis in Colombia, with hundreds of thousands facing famine, farmers unable to sell their produce and food distributors struggling with social distancing.
Meanwhile, coronavirus outbreaks in the country’s ports could disrupt food imports, while the minister responsible for food security during the crisis, Agriculture Minister Rodolfo Zea, is expected to appear before the Supreme Court for corruption.
The situation isn’t unique to Colombia, according to the World Food Program (WPF), which estimates some 14 million throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, mostly in Venezuela, will suffer food shortages this year.
Lockdown triggered immediate hunger
In Colombia, the hunger began for the poor as well as for the farmers, almost on day one of the March 25 lockdown that sought to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Despite national and local government efforts to provide food, “6% of the respondents didn’t eat anything the day before the survey and reported skipping meals regularly. 13% had only one meal,” the WFP said after a poll.
Meals eaten day before survey
Source: World Food Program
While people starve, farmers’ food rot
While people were starving, food distribution networks broke down and farmers also started running into trouble, as they were left with food they couldn’t sell. Meanwhile, 5.4 million Colombians were left without a job.
There are products that are in crisis because the costs of collection are higher than what the intermediary pays and, in many cases, no buyer is found, so the food ends up being thrown away, especially fruit. This is a pity, while there are other regions suffering from hunger.
National Farmers Association chief Luis Alejandro Jimenez,
According to Zea, the agriculture ministry has begun a program, involving mainly young farmers, that will allow them to offer their products online, as food distribution centers are only allowed to work at 50% of their capacity, because of the social distancing measures.
Trouble only beginning
The lockdown was only a warm-up as the coronavirus is going to make it difficult for farmers and for distributors to effectively deliver food to the food shops.
The World Food Program said in April that the global economic crisis is going to make things even worse as at least 900,000 Venezuelan migrants are expected to be put on the brink of starvation.
On top of those, 5.4 million Colombians will be uncertain where their food comes from as Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla refused to decree Congress idea for a temporary basic minimal income.
How to change an entire food supply network
Zea’s plan to create online platforms that would allow consumers to buy directly from farmers should not just be a good deal for both food consumers and farmers, it would help the food distribution centers to meet their social distancing targets.
We are innovating and adapting to the requirements of these times, to guarantee that we reach the peasants in the remote regions of Colombia with the financial resources.
Agriculture Minister Rodolfo Zea
Zea’s innovation sounds a lot like a pilot project in Medellin that sought to mitigate the effects of the lockdown by creating a platform that allowed farmers to deliver food packages directly at their customers’ doors.
Food distributors in biggest fix
While customers and farmers potentially could benefit from the removal of intermediaries, the food distributors appear to be in trouble.
Food distributors staged a massive protest at Corabastos on Thursday after they were told by Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez they could only work at 35% of their capacity.
The city hall agreed to raise this to 50% in the food distribution center that provides fruit and vegetables for much of central Colombia.
Meanwhile, the reduced activity at Corabastos may not lead to food shortages and price hikes, according to the Bogota government.