Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
    FAO Data Lab

    News digest - 05.06/07/2020

    Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.

    Zimbabwe fisher
    ©FAO/Brent Stirton

    FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS

    Agriculture workers, smallholder farmers and small food businesses are still facing major COVID-related difficulties in the United States and in Ghana. 32% of all people that tested positive for COVID-19 in Oregon are Hispanic, and most of them are agriculture workers that were not granted sufficient protection against the spread of coronavirus, while all restaurants were allowed to reopen in Michigan while facing serious issues with underemployment as the social unrest surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement increased concerns among some of the African American employees. In Ghana, most smallholder farmers were excluded from the government’s alleviation programme as they don’t register their activities.

    Coronavirus: Smallholder farmers face daunting prospects

    Despite facing various challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic (namely, disruptions in market linkage, slowdowns in production, restrictions on movement), Ghana’s government’s Coronavirus Alleviation Programme excludes smallholder farmers as they do not register their activities or keep records of transactions. Therefore, the country’s farmers recorded many post-harvest losses, and at the same time they haven’t been able to recover from them.

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    Vulnerables, pero no olvidados

    Around 160.000 Hispanic temporary agriculture workers get to Oregon to harvest blackberries, pears and beetroots. During the current public health crisis, their contribution to keep stores supplied was fundamental; however, they were not provided with adequate protection, and this is proved by the fact that 32% of all people that tested positive for COVID-19 in Oregon are Hispanic. Furthermore, they are more likely to pass away once infected.

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    Small businesses in the food system ‘maintaining’ as COVID-19 fallout continues

    In the absence of most public events, many small restaurants and other food businesses are still struggling to recover from COVID-related losses determined by increased prices and limited supply of products. After being allowed to reopen, restaurants now find themselves in a new phase of the pandemic. However, different owners remarked that it has been difficult to keep their employees; particularly the African Americans, as a result of the social unrest determined by the Black Lives Matter movement and the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the Black community in the US.

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    IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES

    Wheat prices fell in Russia, where local farmers may be nudged into quickly selling their harvest, before the new crop. Over the last 12 months, the prices of wheat decreased in Argentina, too, where the Agricultural Foundation for Argentina’s Development (Fundación Agropecuaria para el Desarrollo de la Argentina) estimated that the State’s participation in the agricultural income amounts to 68.3% on average. In Nepal’s food markets, the trader’s price gouging and the persistent rains recently determined a rise in the prices of various vegetables.   

    Russian wheat prices under pressure from new crop

    Russian domestic wheat prices and export prices fell last week because of an initial low demand from the exporters (which may lead to a more aggressive selling from local farmers who need to sell their products) and the pressure from the new crop: at the end of last week, it was estimated to be at USD 197.5 a tonne, while barley’s export price is stable (USD 175 a tonne). The result is likely to be that the country’s July wheat exports will be lower than a year ago, also because of the fact that harvests began later this year.

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    Wholesale prices of vegetables jump as supply shrinks

    In Nepal, many small traders took advantage of a lack of market monitoring by the government during the coronavirus lockdown, by engaging in price gouging. Furthermore, because of a shortage in supply determined by an overabundant rainfall, the wholesale prices of various vegetables increased over the week. The result is that the price of potatoes increased by 35%, that of cauliflower by 26%, while eggplant price jumped by 30%.

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    La participación del Estado en la renta agrícola ya está en el 68,3%

    In Argentina, soy, wheat and maize prices free on board fell respectively by 1.1%, 1.6% and 19.5% over the last twelve months. Soy price recorded an initial reduction during the first phase of the coronavirus pandemic, but it recovered. Maize is definitely the crop that suffered the most in terms of price fluctuations: this will affect its economic viability, and therefore the state’s income (for every USD 100 generated by the activities in one hectare of farmland, USD 68,30 are taxed).  

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    COUNTRIES' RESPONSE

    The government of Zambia approved 736 aquaculture business loan applications in the framework of the Seventh National Development Plan, the country’s blueprint for development that is supposed to offer decent employment opportunities for the citizens and improve food and nutrition security. Romania chose a similar strategy to boost its economy, which aims at providing grant funding to young farmers and small agricultural businesses. In the US, a similar bill to the DIRECT Act, the RAMP-UP Act, would assist small processing facilities in meeting consumer demand by accessing to new markets, thanks to a coverage of costs for federal inspections.  

    Lungu Pushes Aquaculture Agenda

    The President of Zambia, Edgar Lungu, has recently declared himself prone to developing a viable aquaculture sub-sector in the country, which is supposed to improve the livelihoods of around 21,830 citizens and to create 4,366 sustainable jobs. In view of this specific agenda, Zambia’s government approved 736 aquaculture business loan applications from the citizens, for a total value of ZMW 118.3 million, as part of the country’s Seventh National Development Plan (which is aimed at improving food security and promoting an economic diversification in the country).

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    RAMP-UP Act helps meat processors upgrade plants

    The COVID-related disruptions to the meat industry in the United States urged a bipartisan group of lawmakers to introduce the Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants (RAMP-UP) Act (similar to the previously mentioned DIRECT Act), which would authorize federal grants up to USD 100,000 for existing meat processors to become federally inspected (a process that is normally considered very expensive and daunting), and therefore allowing them to sell their products across state lines.

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    Romania’s National Plan For Investment And Economic Recovery

    The Romanian government published its National Plan for Investment and Economic Recovery, which is meant to stimulate economic growth after months of containment measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The plan includes a list of investments totalling approximately EUR 100 billion, of which EUR 410 million will be destined to the purchase of eight regional deposits for agricultural stocks, to the improvement the irrigation system, to the creation of jobs and to the concession of lands to young farmers.  

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    REGIONAL FOCUS

    When COVID-19 started to spread in Africa, many countries closed their borders in an attempt to contain the diffusion of the coronavirus. In April, this urged the World Bank to push them to gradually reopen their borders as much as possible in its Africa’s Pulse Report, at least for what concerns the medical and food products. In fact, African countries heavily depend on imports of medical supplies (94% of pharmaceuticals are imported). In June, signs of openness came from Kenya, where the Africa Star Railway Operation Company operated 52 freight trains that transported 2494 TEUs to Uganda and to other East African countries.

    MENA – Regional experts gather to address food security challenge in the MENA region

    A group of experts in the agricultural sector from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Oman, Jordan, Egypt and South Africa recently discussed about different innovative solutions to improve the quality and quantity of domestic produce. The discussion focused on the most effective technologies in smart farming, including indoor vertical farming, hydroponics and aeroponics.

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    AFRICA – Businesses want borders open to boost economy

    In March, governments in Africa have resorted to border closures amid the coronavirus pandemic to stop the spread of the virus. This was necessary, but it quickly led to various supply chain disruptions (including shortages of raw materials and price increases). In April, the World Bank urged the African governments to loosen the export restrictions on medical and food products, as they limit their access to the poorest; hence, the advice to keep borders open as much as possible.

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    AFRICA – Madaraka Express Freight service thrives amid Covid-19

    The priority for the transportation sector has shifted during the pandemic from moving citizens to keeping procedures in place to ensure key essential workers and products continue to move. In June 2020, the Africa Star Railway Operation Company transported 2494 twenty-foot equivalent units (a unit of cargo capacity that is based on the volume of one intermodal container) to Uganda and other East African countries, mitigating the spread of the coronavirus and thus highlighting the advantages of rail transport over trucking.

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