More food in going to waste in North America: 40% of the total food produced in the USA is not consumed because it deteriorates during its journey throughout the food supply chain, while food waste increased by 13.5% in Canada, where consumers buy more food than they need and do not adopt good planning behaviors, thus keeping products in the freezer for too much time or not considering best-before dates. One way to reduce food waste would be to improve food packaging, which protects the products from external stressors and contaminants: for example, using microscopic clay or silver components in plastic packaging films would drastically increase food shelf life.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
On average, 40% of the total food produced in the United States goes to waste every day throughout all stages of the food supply chain: at the consumer, farmer, grocer, restaurant, processing, transportation and storage levels; meanwhile, around 37 million people are food insecure in the country. What would be fundamental to expand food’s life span is a better packaging, which provides protection from contaminants and blocks out environmental stressors such as light and oxygen. Recently, scientists have shown that microscopic pieces of a second material (like clay or silver) can be integrated into plastic packaging films to enhance their antimicrobial or oxygen-blocking effects.
According to a new study, Canadian consumers are wasting more food since the coronavirus pandemic began, because of overbuying. More in particular, food waste is up 13.5%, and overbuying is producing 20 to 24 million kilograms of additional organic waste per citizen. This amounts to around CAD 2000 throughout the year per household, according to the study (which surveyed 8272 Canadians between August 21 and August 23), while prior to the pandemic the same families would waste around CAD 1766 annually. The respondents mainly threw out food because of poor planning behaviours (food being left in the freezer for too long, or not consumed before its best-before dates).
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
While the United States, United Kingdom and France faced the worst wheat harvests in years, which impacted on their exports (normally, France is the main wheat exporter in the European Union), Eastern Australia, China and Russia produced huge volumes of the grain, which were sufficient to support global prices and to prevent them from skyrocketing. Wheat price trends were stable or decreasing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while maize prices increased in most of East Africa, excluding the surplus-producing Uganda and Tanzania.
While Eastern Australia benefited from the highest wheat production levels in at least three years, the United States’ farmers witnessed the smallest wheat crop in a century, the United Kingdom had the lowest in 40 years, and so did France (the European Union’s largest wheat exporter), which was hit by a drought that heavily affected crop volumes. Normally, a small crop in the US, UK and France would see prices for wheat futures rise, but the huge volumes of wheat produced in Russia and China are holding the prices lower. It may be possible, however, that wheat produced in China will be made unfit for human or animal consumption by poor storage conditions.
Nigerian food prices continued to rise during the month of July, with annual inflation increasing for an eleventh consecutive month, just like maize prices increased in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan as stocks tightened before the October-to-December harvests. On the other hand, maize prices declined in surplus-producing Uganda and Tanzania, and wheat price trends were stable or decreasing on average in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Finally, the international staple food (rice, maize and soybean, more in particular) markets were well supplied throughout the whole month.
Technological improvements to agriculture achieved by three countries in South and South-East Asia show up in today’s media coverage: two Chinese companies are creating value out of plastic waste material and supplying modern agricultural equipment to scale up productivity in Zambia; an egg processing facility in the Philippines that received a grant from the Department of Agriculture last year to set up a manure composting facility has recently partnered with an organic fertilizer producer to improve the conversion of farm wastes into fertilizer; 27 new cold chain projects in India will improve farmers’ incomes and generate employment through the creation of modern, innovative infrastructure and effective cold chain facilities for the country’s food processing sector.
China is providing both knowledge and technology transfers to Zambia, which benefit both countries. More in particular, Chinese companies in Zambia are creating jobs and providing training to local employees through formal programs (mentoring and on-the-job training), but also disseminating machinery and production processes and models. For example, Hongsen Investment is creating value out of plastic waste material (households products like dishes, cups and brooms) by contributing to job creation and environmental sustainability, while CAMCO Equipment supplies modern agricultural equipment to scale up agriculture productivity in Zambia.
An egg processing facility in the Philippines received a financial grant from the Department of Agriculture in 2019, which it used to set up a chicken manure automated composting facility that reduced its dependence on expensive fertilizers. More recently, it has signed a memorandum of agreement with an organic fertilizer producer to improve the conversion of animal manure and other farm wastes into fertilizer: this initiative will also minimize animal disease, strengthen pollution control, improve soil condition and improve farmers’ incomes by marketing organic fertilizer.
27 new integrated cold chain projects, which were recently approved by India’s Inter-Ministerial Approval Committee under the Scheme of Cold Chain, Value Addition and Preservation Infrastructure (under implementation since 2008), will generate direct and indirect employment for 16,200 people and benefit more than 250,000 farmers in the country. Furthermore, safeguarding perishable agricultural products thanks to new cold chain infrastructures may also make the country more self-reliant for what concerns the supply of fruits and vegetables.
While China may meet the Central and Eastern European countries’ development needs through the Belt and Road Initiative to expand the market for its large production capacity, thus also helping them recover from the economic crisis that was prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, the Latin American countries should focus on developing a green recovery plan, which would solve several issues at the same time (economic development, job creation, decarbonisation, improved public health systems). Furthermore, there is a strong need to develop more effective biotech crop technologies in Asia to support farmers facing increasingly frequent disruptive weather events and pests.
China has begun to develop cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries in the field of innovation, through the Belt and Road Initiative (the global infrastructure development strategy adopted by China’s government in 2013). The projects that China is able to offer to these countries will shift them from a marginal region in Europe to a primary position for the relationship between Europe and China, by combining their industrial development needs to China’s large production capacity. However, China will also have to overcome Western European countries’ fear that the countries of the Western Balkans will choose China over the EU.
The combination of the coronavirus pandemic and the plummeting oil prices is likely to cause Latin American economies to contract by an average of 7.2% in 2020. In order to bounce back from this shock, there is the need to develop a green recovery plan that includes indigenous perspectives that promote development in harmony with nature, especially in Bolivia and Ecuador. In fact, a crucial advantage of a green recovery plan would be the opportunity to tackle several socioeconomic objectives at the same time (namely, economic development, job creation, decarbonisation, improved public health).
In Asia, farmers are contending with limited natural resources, more frequent extreme weather events and an increasing number of diseases and pests, so that the coronavirus pandemic only added to the pressure on the region’s food supply chain. Therefore, it is paramount for the Asian food supply stakeholders to deliver shared solutions, for example by focusing on plant science, which reduces the need to use plant production products and develops biotech crops that generate increased yields, have a better resistance to pests and are more nutritious.