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A farmer works at a greenhouse of a mushroom agricultural base in north China's Hebei Province.
A farmer works at a greenhouse of a mushroom agricultural base in north China's Hebei Province.

On the list of the most urgent COVID-19 priorities, right after saving the lives of those infected comes feeding the rest of us. A mix of logistics, impromptu trade barriers and economics make these efforts a major challenge. And the longer the crisis continues, and the farther it spreads, the stakes of the food supply chain go well beyond keeping your favorite brands stocked in supermarkets. In some places, it can also be a matter of life or death.

Blocking imports: In Goa, one of the richest states in India, famous among tourists for its picturesque beach resorts, finding food has become dangerously hard since a nationwide shutdown began two weeks ago. French daily Le Mondereports that the local governor has shut off any incoming food supply trucks, and stocks have been rapidly vanishing. Locals report that the population of northern Goa has almost nothing left to eat.

A farmer in Uttar Pradesh during India's nationwide lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic.Photo: Prabhat Kumar Verma

Blocking exports: The world's eighth-largest producer of wheat, Kazakhstan, has banned flour exports and imposed restrictions on selling vegetables and buckwheat abroad. Serbia has banned vegetable oil export. Vietnam, the world's third-largest rice exporter, has a ban on new rice export contracts. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization fears such protectionist measures could provoke global food market instability, raise prices and leave populations at risk of hunger.

Blocking labor: There is also the question of how the goods are actually produced, right down to the local farmers. Italian magazine Internazionale reports on as many as 370,000 seasonal workers — mainly from Romania, Bulgaria and Poland – who are blocked from entering Italy because of closed borders. "We're a sign of what's to come, because we're already harvesting," notes one farmer. "Today, workers are missing for asparagus harvest, but tomorrow they'll be missing in apple orchards, for planting season and for all the other crops. It's going to get really get bad."

All of this raises questions that will be posed even after the national quarantines are lifted. Since the beginning of the pandemic, politicians have been reassuring the public that any empty shelves in grocery stores were caused by bottlenecks in the supply chain and stores should be able to replenish quickly. But this short-term emptying is proof of a deeper fragility of our current "just-in-time" consumption system based solely on efficiency, writes The Atlantic. We can add "how we feed ourselves' to the growing list of questions about the ways that life will (or won't) change in the post-coronavirus world.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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