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COVID-19 ‘exposed how fragile our food systems are’: Gro Intelligence Founder

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Sara Menker, Gro Intelligence Founder & CEO, joins 'Influencers with Andy Serwer' to discuss how COVID-19 is affecting the food supply chain around the world.

Video Transcript

ANDY SERWER: You've put out there that you think there is going to be food scarcity in the coming decades and this is a critical issue. Why is that?

SARA MENKER: Well, so, I think-- well, some of it we're already facing right now, unfortunately, right? And last year, we-- COVID exposed how fragile our food systems really are, how they're built on very short-term thinking, right? So the breaks that we saw in the supply chains were a function of the fact that, you know, if you think about food and agriculture, it's an industry that's been around for over 12,000 years.

However, if I find oil in the ground and I want to go sell it 20 years forward, I can do that. If I want-- most food transactions are still done on a week to week, month to month, day to day basis. And so that means that something goes wrong, the system breaks.

And so, you know, a huge part of the crisis we were warning against was going to-- was driven by the fact that it is a global market. And so a global market means that you need-- you have sort of supply centers and you have demand centers. And if there's these deep imbalances that are built, you could have, you know, the areas where you have the largest growth in sort of demand can have a complete mismatch from the areas where you have the largest growth in supply or have the largest pools of supply and the cost, right? So it's a function of trade. It's a function of demand growth. And then it's a function of cost.

And what we're seeing happening this year, and it's a story that no one's really talking a lot about it. I think it's going to only manifest itself more and more, is that the local cost of food and so many economies has skyrocketed over the past year. Because, again, you have net exporting countries like the US and Brazil, Argentina, Russia. But outside of the US, every one of these net exporting countries are having currency crises due to COVID, right, and very weak macroeconomic structures. And what that is leading their governments to do is to start curbing exports as a mechanism for protecting local inflation. Because food inflation is their worst form of inflation.

And so in a world where you have commodity prices and food prices that are going up, which is what's happened over the past year because of demand coming out of China-- Chinese demand hasn't slowed down-- you have countries that are exporting countries with currencies that are down 20%, which means that if your price of a product is up 15% and then your local currency is down 20%, your, you know, inflation is just skyrocketing. So you you're having a lot of countries now curb sort of exports and lead to protectionist policies that I think can lead to all sorts of effects.