Food Aid Distribution Braces for COVID-19 Disruptions

Man wearing pink t-shirt pushes wheelbarrow filled with bags of USAID milled rice in front of line of people
Food aid supply chain
Apr 10, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC -- As the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, there are concerns that the continued spread of the virus could jeopardize food security.  Disruptions of the global food supply chain pose an even greater threat to the lives of millions of people across the world already caught up in humanitarian emergencies.  However, impact on staple commodities is likely to be short-term as bulk commodities can be loaded, shipped, and discharged with minimal human interaction.  

According to this month’s USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Grain: World Markets and Trade Report, global reserves of non-perishable grains such as wheat and rice should be sufficient to meet any surge in demand, and most borders remain open to trade in goods.  

With schools closed across many nations that currently receive food through the UN World Food Programme (WFP) directly or through U.S. government feeding programs, millions of children are not receiving their food rations.  Plans are being put in place to distribute take home rations to prevent this from causing further strain to the local populations.  The crisis has spurred a renewed vigor for the use of cash vouchers, but this runs counter to USA Rice policy that favors in-kind food donations to prevent lifesaving resources from being easily diverted. 

Despite enormous worldwide challenges, most food suppliers have reported that they are not yet facing any disruptions or delays in food supply or delivery.  Delays in shipping due to China’s nationwide lockdown and shipping container distribution should start to alleviate as China slowly begins to lift restrictions.

“USA Rice remains in contact with our partners in the government and PVO community and the U.S. rice industry is ready to assist in this unprecedented global crisis,” said Bobby Hanks, chair of the USA Rice Food Aid Subcommittee.  “We continue to push rice and fortified rice as nutritious solutions to hunger and encourage USDA to allow for take home rations in its McGovern-Dole school feeding programs to ensure that stressed populations continue to receive the nutrition they need during this challenging time.”

Amid the global chaos, U.S. government international feeding programs continue to procure commodities, with a tender for rice announced as recently as this week.