Pandemic brings hard times for farmers, worsening hunger

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FILE - In this May 5, 2020, file photo, a seasonal worker trains the growing hops by winding or tying two or three shoots clockwise to each string, at Stocks Farm in Suckley, Worcestershire. The coronavirus pandemic has brought hard times for many farmers and has imperiled food security for many millions both in the cities and the countryside. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

The coronavirus pandemic has brought hard times for many farmers and has imperiled food security for many millions both in the cities and the countryside.

United Nations experts are holding an online conference beginning Tuesday to brainstorm ways to help alleviate hunger and prevent the problems from worsening in the Asia-Pacific region — a challenge made doubly difficult by the loss of many millions of jobs due to the crisis.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization forecasts that the number of undernourished people will increase by up to 132 million in this year, while the number of acutely malnourished children will rise by 6.7 million worldwide due to the pandemic.

“We must come to terms with what is before us and recognize that the world and our region has changed," said Jong-Jin Kim, the FAO's assistant director-general and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific.

“We must find new ways to move forward and ensure sustainable food security in the face of these twin pandemics, as well as prepare for threats that can and will evolve in the future,” Kim said.

Disruptions due to outbreaks of the illness and restrictions on businesses and travel to control them run the gamut, from crops going unharvested by migrant workers unable to reach their jobs to transport problems to farm families selling livestock and equipment to survive. the FAO said in a report prepared ahead of the meeting.

The combined impacts of COVID-19, natural disasters such as typhoons and drought, diseases and pests such as locusts have highlighted the need to build stronger capacity to “manage multiple risks to food systems," the report said.

The FAO is urging faster deployment of high-tech tools such as drones and smartphone apps to monitor crops, pests and other farming conditions as part of a transformation of food systems to make them more resilient and reduce risks, especially for the most vulnerable small farmers in poor countries.