Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The journey from field to plate has been interrupted in our locked down world.

Why it matters: With some crops rotting in fields and others subject to export bans, the coronavirus crisis could cause shortages in richer countries and hunger in poorer ones.

In Europe, as in North America, the harvest depends on migration. 

  • German asparagus, French strawberries and Italian tomatoes are picked by Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians.
  • Harder borders are now limiting movement, and workers are reluctant to travel due to fears of infection or quarantine.
  • Officials across Western Europe have declared farmhands critical workers. They've also called on newly unemployed people to take to the fields — the French agriculture minister called for a “shadow army” of waiters, hairdressers and hotel staff.
  • It's not so simple. “Dutch people are used to working Monday to Friday, nine to five. But the asparagus keeps growing seven days a week,” one farmer told the Economist.

In India, the food supply depends on tens of millions of people working in farms, transporting food, and selling it in wholesale markets and at small stands.

  • When the national lockdown snapped into place, gaps appeared all along that chain.
  • “All the eateries on the highways are closed. I have nothing to eat,” a truck driver attempting to deliver tomatoes to New Delhi told the Wall Street Journal. “Everyone says we should keep delivering essential supplies. But the supply link can continue only if we survive.”

Fearing a prolonged crisis, some countries have halted exports of key foodstuffs — rice from Vietnam, wheat from Kazakhstan, fish from Cambodia.

  • That could have serious downstream effects for poor countries that import most of their food, the Washington Post notes, though other big exporters plan to keep trade flowing.

The bottom line: "There is enough food, but food and other essential commodities must keep moving," John Crisci, supply chain director at the UN World Food Program tells Axios. "We cannot let this health crisis turn into a food crisis."

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