Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
    FAO Data Lab

    News digest - 23/07/2020

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

    A vendor measures rice into bags at the Klongtoey market in Bangkok
    ©FAO/Lilliane Suwanrumpha


    A global overview of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on food supply chains: Eastern African, Middle Eastern and South-West Asian countries are still dealing with a substantial pressure on regional agricultural production, due to the effects of the pandemic and of the desert locust swarms that are eroding the crops, while Latin American countries are facing serious food security issues and the North American meat industry is still under a lot of stress. The solutions to these issues mainly focus on increasing self-reliance through agricultural innovation, cash transfers and government stimulus packages.

    Pandemic slams US independent meat processors and ranchers

    It is a well-known fact by now that the meat industry in the United States is the one that struggled the most to get its products to the stores during the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic. That is mainly due to meat processing plants not being able to keep up with a sudden demand growth, prompted by panic buying. A legacy of this consumer behaviour is represented by the fact that people keep buying more bulk product, and this is making things difficult for independent meat processors in Wyoming, which are still far behind on orders.


    Covid-19 and food security: challenges and opportunities in emerging markets

    In the Horn of Africa, the coronavirus pandemic and the desert locust swarms have put considerable pressure on regional agricultural production, which has been partially mitigated by government stimulus packages and inter-governmental financial aid. The Middle East, on the other hand, is the world’s most water-stressed region, which is the reason why Middle Eastern countries are among the largest food importers globally. However, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted trade links, forcing these countries to focus more on regional cooperation and self-sufficiency.



    Two unexpected opportunities for farmers emerged in Russia and Namibia: the former has seen portions of permafrost melt over the years, due to the rising global temperatures, and chose to use this new fertile soil to grow soybean, which is mostly processed to produce animal feed (whose demand has been growing amid a boom for livestock production); the latter is growing blueberries for the first time, thanks to a substantial financing from the Government Institutions Pension Fund. Thailand, on the other hand, will see its rice exports decrease over the next decade, unless it devotes more investments to R&D and strengthens its data collection systems.

    Thai rice exports poised to drop in next decade

    The Thai Rice Exporters Association stated that Thailand is expected to see a continuous drop in rice exports over the next 10 years. In order to stop this trend, the country has to increase its research and development budget for rice (seed development, more in particular) in order to contain production costs and make the product more competitive on the global market. Furthermore, Thailand should enhance its data collection systems, in order to devise effective marketing plans for rice, as part of a new long-term strategy.


    Namibia: first-ever local large-scale commercial blueberry project bears fruit abundantly

    The coronavirus lockdown had a heavy impact on the Mashare Berries Project, which was financed by the Government Institutions Pension Fund and designed with the specific intention of growing blueberries in Namibia for the first time (they are normally grown in South Africa), in order to support the strategy of selecting high-value crops for export to earn foreign currency. However, the pandemic has not prevented the project from achieving good results, as a harvest of around 150 tons of blueberries is expected between July and October.

    Russia’s permafrost is melting and its farmers are cashing in

    Warming weather is pushing crops further toward the poles than they have ever grown before. For example, the rising global temperatures are melting some portions of permafrost in Northern Russia, turning them into fertile soil, where farmers are now growing soybean. Soy was planted on 1,400 hectares (previously used for peas), and it will be mostly processed and used for animal feed. However, the drier conditions are threatening the wheat crops in other parts of the country, such as the Black Sea region.



    In March, the US Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Stability (CARES) Act to help hospitals, families and small businesses during the most disruptive phase of the coronavirus pandemic. The Act includes USD 9.5 billion for agriculture producers, and additional funds for beef, pork, dairy and row crops producers: part of these additional funds have been recently granted to small meat processors in Missouri. In Pakistan, the government is facilitating wheat import procedures (berthing, storage and clearance of shipments), while South Africa could focus on ecological organic agriculture in the future in order to ensure food security.

    The policy shift South Africa needs to achieve food sustainability

    The South African food system is hampered by the impacts of climate change and of the coronavirus pandemic, by deterioration in soil, plant and animal health and by scarce water availability. In order to secure adequate food and nutrition in the country, South Africa required policies that create an enabling agricultural environment with modern agricultural practices and systems, with the development of emerging farming sectors, and with infrastructure improvements. For example, a key strategy for the future could be focusing on the development of ecological organic agriculture.


    Pakistan food secretary promises support to importers

    In view of the current wheat supply issues in Pakistan, the Ministry of National Food Security and Research issued wheat import permits to private sector importers in order to ensure an adequate supply of wheat and flour across the country. During a recent meeting on wheat import, the Federal Food Security Secretary briefed the importers on the measures taken by the government in response to their requests for a facilitation in the berthing, storage and clearance of shipments.


    $20 million in grant funding heading to Missouri’s smaller meat and poultry processors

    Missouri’s Department of Agriculture recently announced a USD 20 million grant from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for the state’s meat and poultry processors with less than 200 employees. The objective of the grant program is to increase livestock and poultry processing capacity across the state, after it was under considerable pressure (and it still is, in many cases) during the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic.




    The foreign countries’ interest in cooperating with African countries is shaping current and future developments in the continent. For example, the dispute over how Ethiopia should fill and operate the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has not been reached with Egypt and Sudan, which are both dependent on the Nile’s water supply; however, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could play a part in settling the dispute, as both of them have increased their involvement in the Horn of Africa. Furthermore, the Africa-China trade relationship under the Belt and Road Initiative has not been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, and new areas of cooperation have been recently identified.

    AFRICA – Deadlock on the Nile

    The latest round of talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan about the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam resulted in a dead end, once again. The countries have not agreed on a new date for another round of negotiations, and Ethiopia has made clear its intent to fill up the dam anyway. This dispute could lead to a conflict between them, but since Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have invested in Sudan’s agricultural sector in order to increase their food security, they are well positioned to play a leading role in assisting the countries involved in the dispute to avoid confrontation.


    AFRICA – Africa, China build future road maps for pandemic prevention, BRI

    Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the cooperation between China and Africa under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative has not been disrupted. This trade relationship will probably focus on manufacturing in the post-pandemic era, but during the 2020 Extraordinary Africa-China Summit on Solidarity against COVID-19 (which was held in June), other key areas of cooperation emerged, such as strengthening the health systems of African countries and improving the continent’s capacity for green, low-carbon and sustainable development.