The coronavirus pandemic has slowed down the growth of India’s aquaculture industry (one of the most profitable in the world), by affecting every component of the value chain, with repercussions on the demand in export markets and, ultimately, on the livelihoods of fishers and farmers. In the UK, on the other hand, the UK’s government’s failure to prioritize the country’s fresh meat exports to the other European countries could cause delays in transit, which would force the British processors to freeze meat products, thus devaluating them and losing their competitive advance over the other suppliers.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
India, one of the largest aquaculture producers in the world, produced around 9 million tons of freshwater fish and 800,000 tons of shrimp last year, employing around 10 million people. However, the coronavirus pandemic negatively affected the progress of the country’s aquaculture industry by causing a reduced demand of aquaculture products from processors and reducing farmgate prices by 20-30%: because of this, India’s production of shrimp this year is predicted to fall by 40% to 500,000 tons.
According to the British Meat Processors Association, the United Kingdom’s government’s decision not to prioritise fresh meat exports during the negotiations with the European Union over a possible trade agreement would eliminate the British meat processors’ competitive advantage over other countries, thus affecting the UK’s meat industry. If fresh meat exports do not get priority over non-perishable items, fresh meat will have to be frozen, which would devaluate it and turning it into a different food product that the European customers could purchase from other parts of the world.
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
Prices for fruits, vegetables (onions and tomatoes, in particular) and potatoes are still high in India’s retail markets. The two factors that determined these hikes in prices are the unfavourable weather conditions in West Bengal (where most of the potato supplies in the country come from) and a recent amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, which allegedly determined a price rise for onions. In the United States, turkey prices are increasing in the run up to Thanksgiving Day, due to a reduced supply that is caused, in turn, by the pandemic-induced uncertainties concerning consumer habits (many people will not travel long-distances to celebrate, for example).
Potato, fruit and vegetable prices keep increasing due to the recent rains in India, where onions and tomatoes, for example, are currently selling at well above average prices in retail markets around the country, while family incomes are still affected by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on employment (which influences consumer consumption levels). More in particular, the production of potatoes in West Bengal (on which many Indian states depend, for what concerns the supply of potatoes) was below average last year, and maintained this trend in 2020, due to the unfavourable weather conditions.
Wholesale turkey prices have recently increased by 19% year-on-year in the United States, due to the fact that production was down 7.7% in October, compared to the same period in 2019. This may be caused by the uncertainties related to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Thanksgiving traditional consumer trends this year: in fact, according to the Food Industry Association, almost one-third of all Americans will have fewer people at their traditional Thanksgiving celebrations, as many of them will avoid long-distance travel.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana’s and Kenya’s government have recently announced two initiatives to improve the livelihoods of many farmers: through financial support in Ghana, where the country’s government is negotiating with two banks to provide a better credit access to farmers, and through infrastructure development in Kenya, where the National Irrigation Authority will be expanding two irrigation schemes to benefit 2500 rice farmers over the next three years. Today’s media coverage also contains an infrastructure development initiative in the United Arab Emirates, where two poultry farms in Abu Dhabi will be renovated or built from scratch in order to support the country’s poultry industry.
Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture has recently started negotiating with the Agricultural Development Bank of Ghana and the Fidelity Bank to increase access to finance for farmers, in order to enable them to procure machinery and increase their productivity. The successful outcome of this initiative would support value addition and contribute to the reduction of post-harvest losses in the country, thus positively affecting Ghana’s agro-processing sector and the overall economic growth of the country.
The coronavirus pandemic has raised food security concerns in the United Arab Emirates; especially for what concerns the import supply of poultry products in the country. For this reason, the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority has announced the establishment of an USD 272 million investment fund, which is earmarked for agricultural projects, such as the renovation and expansion of an existing poultry farm in the country, and the construction of an entirely new poultry farm in Abu Dhabi.
Kenya’s National Irrigation Authority has recently announced the expansion of two irrigation schemes in the Kisumu County, which will take place over the next three years and will bring the total acreage under irrigation to 18,500 acres. This program was made necessary by the fact that the rising water levels in Lake Victoria consumed 80% of the irrigable land in West Kano, and its main benefit will be the improvement of the county’s rice production, and of the livelihoods of around 2500 farmers.
Today’s media coverage proposes several newspaper articles related to the African continent. More in particular, they underline the importance of intra-Africa trade for many African countries that are net food importers and that are characterised by alarming food insecurity rates, and highlight the positive aspects of Botswana’s livestock industry (investments in infrastructure development and in the dissemination of regenerative rangeland practices, for example), which could represent a model for Nigeria. Finally, one article reports the emergence of a specific wheat disease (that is normally found in Asia and in South America) in Africa, and it describes the possible effects of its spread in many wheat-producing African countries.
Two-thirds of all countries in Africa are still over-reliant on food imports from the East or West to meet their food needs, and the coronavirus pandemic has further aggravated this situation. Intra-Africa trade provides an opportunity to reduce their reliance on imports from outside the continent, and also to create many employment opportunities across the food value chain, thus both improving food security rates and supporting economic growth.
Nigeria is a large livestock producer in Sub-Saharan Africa; however, the country is also the major milk importer in the region, with an annual bill of USD 1.3 billion. In fact, Nigeria lacks large meat processing plants, while a country like Botswana, with a far weaker production of livestock, manages to export meat products. For this reason, Nigeria should adopt Botswana’s formula to improve its livestock industry, which is based on the conversion of milk imports into fodder imports, on the implementation of sustainable rangeland principles and on the construction of feedlots and abattoirs.
A wheat fungal disease (the “wheat blast”) that is common to Asia and South America has been recently identified in Africa for the first time, raising fears of potential spread to wheat crops across the continent. Since wheat is becoming an important food crop in Africa, due to its rapid population growth and to the gradual change in food preferences (in favour of foods like bread, biscuits and pasta), the disease could be particularly impactful for wheat-producing countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia.