World food security at risk as exporters curb sales, importers buy more
SINGAPORE, Mar 26: Global food security concerns are mounting with around a fifth of the world's population already under lockdown to fight the widening coronavirus pandemic that has infected over 470,000 people across 200 countries, killing 21,000.
Panic buying of household staples like toilet paper and cleaning products have occurred in nearly every country hit by the virus, and empty shelves in supermarkets have been common.
Compounding the anxiety stemming from erratic consumer buying has been concern that some governments may move to restrict the flow of food staples to ensure their own populations have enough while supply chains get disrupted by the pandemic.
"People are starting to get worried," said Phin Ziebell, agribusiness economist at National Australia Bank.
"If major exporters start keeping grains at home, it will have the buyers really worried. It is panicking and not rational, as fundamentally the world is well supplied with food."
Vietnam, the third largest rice exporter, and Kazakhstan, the number nine wheat exporter, have already made moves to restrict sales of those staples amid concerns over domestic availability. India, the top global rice exporter, has just entered a three-week lockdown that has brought several logistics channels to a halt.
Elsewhere, Russia's vegetable oil union has called for a restriction in sunflower seed exports, and palm oil output has slowed in the number two producer Malaysia.
On the importer side, Iraq announced it needs 1 million tonnes of wheat and 250,000 tonnes of rice after a "crisis committee" advised building up strategic food stocks.
Together, these moves have raised concerns among agriculture traders about unnecessary food supply distortions. Combined global production of rice and wheat - the most widely-traded food crops - is projected to be a record 1.26 billion tonnes this year, according United States Department of Agriculture data. -REUTERS