Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
    FAO Data Lab

    News digest - 10.11/07/2020

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

    A clam collector holding a bucket of clams
    ©FAO/Amine Landoulsi


    The coronavirus pandemic exposed serious issues concerning the global food value chain. It impacted on the choices consumers make in supermarkets and grocery stores (many people in the US prefer Irish butter to the American one, because it suits their needs now that buying patterns shifted from food service to retail), on the way food is traded between the countries (China is slowing down all seafood imports in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus), and on our perception of the smallholders (which suffer from a poor access to markets, to efficient infrastructure, and to new technologies).

    China Customs slowdown frustrating seafood suppliers

    Indian seafood exporters have witnessed a slowdown in checks at Chinese customs (ascribed to coronavirus tracing), which now take up to 10 days to be completed, resulting in hesitation on the part of the Chinese buyers. China also suspended frozen shrimp imports from Ecuador and other China-based seafood exporters, which are now suffering from a low external demand, and all this despite there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be contracted from food or food packaging.



    Cruel legacy of Green Revolution? Covid-19 underscores 'risky, fragile' food system

    The coronavirus pandemic exposed the precarious condition of our fragile food systems. The smallholders are among the most underserved people in the world, and since family-owned farms produce around 80% of all the food, it is important to improve their resilience. This means strengthening their access to markets, good infrastructure and new technologies, which would also enhance their incomes and productivity. In India, for example, farming is limited to monocropping and only in the monsoon months, due to a lack of efficient irrigation systems.   


    COVID-led consumer changes hanging around

    The coronavirus pandemic determined different behaviour changes in consumers, which will probably last for another year or more. Such changes impacted on the dairy supply chain, as the consumers shifted buying patterns from food service to retail. This means that, for example, while a lot of butter is produced in the United States, not much gets sold, because it is not produced in the right form for retail. In turn, this determined an increase in Irish butter imports, because it is ready to be purchased in grocery stores.



    Corn and soybean crops are approaching their key summer growth stage in the United States, which coincided with some initial forecasts about intensifying heat in the Midwest (that is the region of the country where most of the soybean is produced); however, heavy rain is projected to alleviate dry soil concerns in the region. Crop estimates are weak also in other countries, like Argentina and Russia, but the analysts believe that the global supply will be sufficient. In Southern Africa, maize prices declined between March and May, and its total supply will be well above average.

    US soybean crop estimates

    Five-day rainfall is projected to hit the Midwest (The United States’ top soybean producing region), mitigating dry soil concerns and benefiting both corn and soybeans, whose yields were considered unchanged by the latest US Department of Agriculture’s report. Furthermore, the US soybean production for the 2020-21 marketing year (which runs from September 2020 to August 2021) is estimated to grow by around 6 million bushels, reaching a total of 10 million bushels.

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    Southern Africa Regional Maize Supply and Market Outlook July 2020

    Southern Africa is generally self-sufficient with regard to maize supply; however, the start of the regional harvests this year coincided with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a lower net maize supply (totalling around 4 million tons) and lower prices between March and May 2020. Therefore, some of the countries in the region will be import-dependant for what concerns maize, and food security in market-dependent households will remain hampered by the coronavirus containment measures.


    Grains-wheat eases after 2-month high on harvest risks; corn, soy steady

    Despite the pessimistic crop estimates in the world’s top exporting countries (such as Argentina, France and Russia), the director of agricultural strategy at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia stated that global supplies of wheat are adequate, but the overall demand for grains in food and biofuel are still clouded by the coronavirus pandemic.



    Around the shores of the Canary Islands, small-scale and longline fishers share the same fishing area. However, longline fishing, which uses long lines equipped with hundreds or thousands of baited hooks, is an efficient but non-sustainable commercial fishing technique, that is often prone to incidental catching and hampers the activities of small-scale fishers. This is why the Canarian Coalition political party pledged to help them by liaising directly with the Spanish government. In the United States and in the United Kingdom, on the other hand, farmers and processing plants have been recently supported through the implementation of new safety guidelines for workers in meat and poultry processing plants, and a new remote assessment regime for farmers.

    CC-PNC plantea acciones coordinadas entre Lanzarote y Madrid en defensa del sector primario

    The Spanish political party Canarian Coalition (Coalición Canaria) will support the wine industry and fishery in the Canary Islands (which make up an autonomous community in Spain). Most of the fishers in this region complain about the damage caused by longline overfishing (a commercial fishing technique that uses a long line with baited hooks attached), which is not sustainable and hampers the small-scale fishers, since both of them fish in the same area.


    Gov. Whitmer Signs Executive Order Outlining New Guidelines for Meat, Poultry Processing Facilities

    In the United States, the governor of Michigan signed an executive order outlining new safety guidelines for workers in meatpacking plants, which represented a hot spot for the spread of the coronavirus in other states, during the most acute phase of the pandemic. Both meat and poultry processing plants will have to conduct screenings on a daily basis, maintain social distancing between the workers and require them to wear personal protective equipment.



    Red Tractor's remote farm assessments prove to be a success

    The Red Tractor, the UK’s largest foods standards scheme, introduced a remote assessment regime for farmers when physical assessments were stopped in order to comply with the social distancing and non-essential travel rules in the country. Thanks to live-streaming technologies that allow for a real-time visual inspection of the farms, it was possible to ensure traceability of the products, and therefore a secure supply chain.



    Oxfam estimates that international aid reduction, mass unemployment, and all the disruptions to the food supply chain caused by the coronavirus pandemic will cause the death by hunger of around 12,000 people per day by the end of the year. This grim reality is especially true for Venezuela, Central American countries and Brazil, where different factors are combined with the effects of the pandemic (including droughts and a gasoline shortage in Venezuela). Involving the youth in agricultural development project could help mitigate this situation; however, such programmes are not envisaged in Uganda and were momentarily stopped in Central America.

    AMERICA – OXFAM alerta que a finales de año, el hambre provocada por el covid-19 podría causar 12,000 muertes al día

    In a new report issued by Oxfam, the English non-profit group focused on poverty alleviation, it is estimated that acute food insecurity caused by the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic will determine 12,000 deaths worldwide per day by the end of the year. The situation will be particularly difficult in Venezuela (because of unemployment, hyperinflation, fall in remittances and a gasoline shortage that hampers the agricultural sector), Central America (because of the drought) and Brazil (where governmental support only reached the large companies).

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    AMERICA – Hasta ahora solo una promesa: Sembrando Vida y programa de jóvenes no están operando en Centroamérica

    Fondo México is a Central American investment plan that provide funding for two different projects (Sembrando Vida and Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro) that are aimed at providing technical and financial support to young farmers. In June 2019, the Mexican government undertook to provide additional funding totalling USD 30 million, but after one year this financing never reached its beneficiaries, also because of the coronavirus pandemic, which further slowed down the process.



    AFRICA – East Africa’s Food Basket: Balancing Import Substitution and Regionalism

    Uganda has become an important procurement and distribution hub in East Africa, and has the potential to be a food basket for the region, thanks to its strategic position (it is located at the head of the Nile river) and wealth of natural resources; however, the country is still dependent on subsistence agriculture. Since the population of Uganda is one of the fastest growing in the world, the government should focus on finding ways to promote value addition by involving the youth in the development of the agricultural sector.