Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
    FAO Data Lab

    News digest - 31/07.01/08/2020

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

    Mst Jamila Begum, 50, hails from Shakhahati village of Chilmari upazila in Kurigram district. She lives with her husband, their three sons and their respective families. Their livelihood runs on taking care of others' cattle.
    ©FAO/Fahad Kaizer


    The awareness on the global food supply chain’s flaws is increasing more and more as the disruptions to the food systems caused by the coronavirus pandemic are becoming more apparent than ever. Two of the global food chain’s characteristics that allowed such disruptions to be particularly impactful are its centralization and a general protectionism related to food production. Possible solutions include focusing on improving local food systems, curbing the overconsumption of animal and highly processed food, retargeting agricultural subsidies toward healthy foods, promoting sustainable farming, facilitating market access to farmers and shifting toward more plant-based diets in wealthier countries.

    Post-Covid-19 recovery offers opportunity to rethink global food supply chain

    The pandemic-induced food shortages and the massive amounts of food wasted witnessed by different countries around the world in recent months exposed the fact that the global food supply chain is very vulnerable to external shocks, due to its high centralization and to its characteristic of operating on a just-in-time supply basis. The global food supply chain’s shortcomings have long been apparent (in 2018, a third of all people lacked essential nutrients, according to the latest SOFI); however, the rebuilding of the economies in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic offers an opportunity to transform it and make it resilient to future shocks.


    Wind of protectionism blowing across the global food supply chain

    In March 2020, countries like Vietnam, China, Russia and Kazakhstan stopped rice and wheat exports, followed by a dozen other countries, in anticipation of potential global shortages amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Luckily, this tendency to impose unnecessary trade restrictions did not trigger disastrous food price spikes, but exposed many people to food shortages. In recent years, the international food system has started to revolve around the capacity of certain countries to specialise in the production of some foods to feed demand in other countries, under the pretext of local origins.


    Improving local food systems as a way to mitigate Covid-19 disruptions

    The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on the global food supply chain (increased food waste, food shortages, suspended exports, processing plants closures, and so on) could be mitigated by focusing on the improvement of the local food systems, which would both empower the local communities and boost food security. Local food initiatives that could help achieve this objective include: urban farming, shared community gardens, local commercial production, farmer markets, farm to fork dining and community supported farms.



    The trade and travel restrictions imposed by the countries to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic had repercussions on Islamic holidays and on the economic activities that revolve around them. For example, Somalian livestock exports and demand both decreased, resulting in an oversupply in local markets and therefore in a price decrease, while the price of sacrificial animals peaked during the end of last week in Dhaka, due to a sudden demand growth. In Algeria, on the other hand, the consumption of wheat normalised compared to the first months of 2020, and the production outlook is optimistic for the 2020-21 marketing year.

    Wheat consumption normalised in Algeria after increased demand in early 2020

    In reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, the consumption of wheat spiked in Algeria during the first months of 2020 as many people hoarded staple foods, including flour, out of fear of food shortages. In order to avoid this eventuality, the Algerian Office of Cereals supplied the mills to full capacity, and they worked seven days a week to meet the increased demand. Right now, wheat consumption normalised, and the US Department of Agriculture forecasts normal wheat and barley crop conditions in Algeria for the 2020-21 marketing year: more in particular, the country is expected to produce 3.9 million tons and import 5 million tons of wheat.


    Covid-19 limits participants to the Hajj and reduces Somalian livestock exports to Saudi Arabia

    The annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj) normally represents a fruitful occasion for Somalian livestock herders, who export millions of livestock to feed the pilgrims; however, this year the pilgrimage will be restricted by the Saudi authorities to those already inside the country, in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and Somalian cattle exports to Saudi Arabia (which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the country’s annual livestock exports) will be cut in half due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. The decrease in exports has already caused an oversupply in local markets and a drastic fall in prices.


    Sudden increase in demand for sacrificial animals in Dhaka determines price increase

    Cattle markets in Dhaka charged increased prices toward the end of last week, which coincided with the Eid al-Adha (one of the two Islamic holidays celebrated worldwide each year), because of a supply shortage, leaving Dhaka residents that went to buy sacrificial animals disappointed. The general secretary of the Bangladesh Dairy Farmers’ Association stated that the shortage was caused by an increased demand for sacrificial animals just two days before the Eid, as many people waited until the last day because of the health risks connected to the current coronavirus pandemic.



    In Sub-Saharan Africa, government’s support and the activities of various research institutes are focusing on enhancing the agricultural sector: in Namibia, rural development represents one of the pillars of the current long-term plan for industrialization (Namibia’s fifth National Development Plan), while in Ghana the Savannah Agriculture Research Institute developed a new cowpea variety to improve the country’s agricultural productivity (hampered by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic).

    Research institutes in Ghana are working to tackle low local seed production

    Farmers in Ghana are finding difficulties in accessing improved seedlings (the majority of which has to be imported) and farm machinery, due to the disruption in the supply chain caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and this is negatively impacting the country’s productivity levels. In order to address this issue, various agricultural research institutes in Ghana are developing high-yielding seeds locally: for example, the Savannah Agriculture Research Institute created a new cowpea variety that is pest-resistant, requires less spraying and has the potential to increase the yield by 20 times.


    Namibia’s industrialisation plan focuses on agricultural sector development

    Namibia’s long-term plan for industrialisation is taking a defined shape: the country’s Ministry of Agriculture has recently stated that one of its pillars is creating an inclusive financial sector by focusing on education and on the development of small and medium-sized enterprises. This especially applies to the agricultural sector, which is fundamental in Namibia as it supplies two-thirds of the population with an income. The country is currently a net importer, but it is quickly improving its food exports: in February 2020, for example, Namibia became the first African country to export red meat to the United States.


    FAO unveils comprehensive food loss and waste platform

    The Food and Agriculture Organization has recently unveiled a comprehensive platform that will support the global community’s efforts to limit food loss and waste. The Technical Platform on the Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste brings together information on measurement, reduction, policies, alliances, actions and examples of successful strategies to reduce food loss and waste, and its aim is to stimulate interventions like informing the public to reduce food waste and investing in supply chain infrastructure and farmers training.

    Link 1 - Link 2 - Link 3



    The SUN Pitch Competition, organized by the world’s leading private sector initiative focused on nutrition, has recently rewarded three Sub-Sharan companies for their efforts in fighting malnutrition through technological innovations. The EU’s European Regional Development Fund, on the other hand, can now count on another participant for its CityZen urban farming development programme: the University of Valladolid will join efforts with other European research institutes to create a pool of urban farming policies, initiatives and business processes in order to support decision makers in promoting green innovation.  

    AFRICA – Sub-Saharan food businesses win prizes for their innovation efforts

    A Nigerian social enterprise that tackles child malnutrition in the country has recently been awarded a USD 20,000 cash prize to digitalise its business by the Scaling Up Nutrition Pitch Competition, which provides small and medium-sized enterprises in emerging markets with technical assistance and investment opportunities. A Tanzanian company was the winner of the Food Technology Innovation Prize for providing food technology innovations which create food solutions that are affordable and safe, and another Nutrition Award was won by a micro company from Maputo that turns broken rice into a nutritious products.


    AFRICA – Egypt’s President rules out military action over GERD dispute with Ethiopia

    The President of Egypt has recently ruled out resorting to military action to settle the dispute on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, thus emphasizing the importance of the ongoing negotiations. Furthermore, he mentioned that he has nothing against Ethiopia’s objective to generate electricity through the dam, but he wants it to happen without harming Egypt’s water interests and its share in the Nile’s waters. So far, Egypt and Ethiopia organized many rounds of negotiations over nine years, without reaching a final agreement on how Ethiopia should operate the dam.



    EUROPE – University of Valladolid participates to EU urban farming development project

    The University of Valladolid, in Spain, will participate to the European Union’s CityZen project, which focuses on promoting urban farming innovations by creating a knowledge pool of policies and initiatives that would support decision markers, thus contributing to food security, waste management, community development and adaptation to climate change. Other European research institutes from Greece, Portugal and Germany are part of the initiative, while the leader partner is Bulgaria’s Applied Research and Communications Fund.