Nations around the globe have imposed drastic measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus by closing borders and pausing economies, but large scale lockdowns could hurt the global food system and the nearly 820 million people suffering from chronic hunger, a UN Food and Agriculture economist told Cheddar Wednesday. 
Sabine Altendorf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warned that while so far the impact of the rapidly evolving crisis on food supply has been limited, "this can drastically change in the coming months." 
The nonprofit International Food Policy Research Institute as of March 10 reported that COVID-19 did not, at that point, pose major threats to food security because stores of staples remain high and the livelihood of farmers, outside of denser urban areas, so far have not been affected directly by economic shutdowns. 
The United Nations agreed that breakdowns have been minimal, but warned in April and May, "we expect disruptions in the food supply chains." 
Altendorf said regions that will be impacted hardest by food supply issues are ones who rely heavily on food imports, like the Middle East, and countries where people spend "disproportionately high share of their income on food purchases," she said. 
"There have been really drastic impacts on the demand for food," Altendorf said. Europe and the U.S. have so far seen "extreme surges in demand for food especially for staple products," she noted. Altendorf, speaking to Cheddar from Rome, said demand for flour products in Italy has increased by 80 percent. 
Some nations, like Vietnam, Russia, and Kazakhstan, have already suspended exports of food staples to ensure supply.