General considerations concerning food chain disruption news
During the month of August, news concerning disruptions to global food value chains varied considerably between developed and developing countries, and within the same groups. What is immediately evident is that most of the news detailing food chain disruptions mentioned developing countries, rather than developed countries (80 mentions against 50 mentions, for a total of 130), and that some of the stages are exclusive to one group or the other: disruptions to the market, post-harvest and transport stages were mentioned only in reference to developing countries, while disruptions to the retail, harvest and distribution stages were exclusive to the group of developed countries. Finally, most of the news highlighted information related to producers, consumers and exports: these three categories represented more than half of the total mentions (76 out of 130).
News related to producers struggling in the English-speaking world
18 news mentioned difficulties faced by producers in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia (respectively the first, fourth and fifth most mentioned countries during the month). More in particular, one of them mentioned the issues posed by climate change phenomena and the use of pesticides on the activities of the American beekeepers: the lack of bees in the United States assumes importance considering that three quarters of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators (almonds, apples, blueberries and cherries, for example), and that the number of such crops increased by 300% over the last 50 years. Other news related to American producers mentioned low milk prices affecting dairy producers and dry weather in parts of the Midwest affecting maize and soybean producers.
6 news mentioning Australia highlighted various issues faced by exporters. The Chinese anti-dumping tariffs on Australian barley have been often interpreted as a retaliation against Australia, after its call for an investigation on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Such trade restrictions concern the Australian agricultural business leaders, who are worried about the impact of China’s alleged retaliation on their exports. The British producers, on the other hand, were mostly affected by the issuance of an EU insecticide ban, which allowed the resurgence of the cabbage stem flea beetle, resulting in huge losses for the British oilseed production. Furthermore, potato farmers in the UK faced two of the worst crops in 40 years, due to both a major drought and torrential rains.
Challenges to storage facilities and producers in South Asia and the Middle East
On 4 August a large fire broke out at the port of Beirut, followed by a colossal explosion that generated a mushroom cloud into the air, a blast wave that left buildings within miles from the port in ruin (up to 300,000 people suffered damages to their homes), killed more than 200 people and destroyed a huge grain store with a capacity of 120,000 tons and around 250 tons of rice that were temporarily stored in 10 containers. The explosion immediately sparked concerns about a possible shortage of flour and further worsened the situation of civil unrest that was already present in the country due to a devastating financial crisis. Pakistan is still facing similar risks related to a flour shortage, which the central government is trying to contain with poor results.
China and India (second and third most mentioned countries during the month), on the other hand, mostly faced difficulties related to the agricultural and meat production. Severe floods still caused heavy damages in China in early August, affecting large portions of rice fields, with economic losses amounting to around CNY 41.64 billion and a total of 11.2 million tons of food lost. In India, on the other hand, the main difficulties faced by producers stemmed from the coronavirus lockdown, which heavily impacted on beef production, especially since the collection of animals is usually carried out in the form of home visits. Finally, the Malaysian and Indonesian production and export of palm oil contracted because of a worsening labour shortage amid the pandemic and to heavy rains. More in particular, Malaysia’s palm oil production decreased by 5%, while Indonesia’s palm oil exports declined for all destinations, except for India and Pakistan, while the internal demand for this commodity remained stable.