Uganda is benefiting from an increased production of fruits and vegetables, bust most of the products become unfit for human consumption because of a lack of proper storage facilities, effective cold chain solutions and organized distribution systems in the country. In Kenya, on the other hand, coffee production is more and more lucrative as the product in recognized as one of the best in the world. This is attracting criminal gangs, which steal coffee beans from farmers and often go unpunished. Finally, a new report suggests that the United Kingdom may be unprepared for the longer-term effects of the global pandemic on its food system.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
There is a growing production of fruits and vegetables in Uganda, but most of it goes to waste because of the absence of proper storage facilities. Furthermore, most crops are only available during specific seasons with price variations between peak harvest and low season, due to a lack of cold chain solutions in the country. Moreover, most of the distribution systems in the country are still informal and disorganized: in fact, during the coronavirus lockdown, the ones that allowed people to access food supplies were boda-boda drivers (motorcycle taxis that are commonly found in East Africa) and small cargo trucks.
With Kenya’s coffee continuing to fetch a premium price at the world market, criminal gangs in the country are becoming interested in this product. The Mount Kenya region hosts the presence of many stores containing some of the best coffee in the world, guarded by watchmen that are generally equipped only with a whistle and a club. This gives the gangs an opportunity to steal coffee beans (smallholder farmers lose coffee worth millions of Kenyan shillings to these gangs every year), but the lack of convictions is making stakeholders believe that there could be collusion between the police and the cartels.
A new report (which draws on interviews with consumers, senior executives at large companies and sustainability leaders) suggests that the coronavirus pandemic determined food supply chain disruptions in the United Kingdom that could leave the country’s food system in a poor position to deal with the longer-term effects of the pandemic if they are left untreated. The report also proposed some solutions to food businesses, in order to protect the UK’s food system against future threats.
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
China is dealing with the prospects of a likely maize shortage in the near future, caused by the increasing prices (pushed by drought and floods in different regions of the country, and by the continuing pork shortage), and it is banning barley imports from Australia at the same time (officially because of the fact that weeds were detected in a recent shipment). Since wine and beef imports from Australia were also limited in China, the former country now fears a trade strike on wheat exports. In New Zealand, on the other hand, kiwifruit and dairy export prices (pushed by favourable exchange rates) are increasing.
The increasing maize prices (caused by drought in the north, flooding in the south and a continuing pork shortage) are further raising food security concerns in China, where food inflation has reached the highest levels in ten years. A stable supply of maize in China is fundamental for the country’s gigantic hog, dairy and poultry production, but it may face a deficit of up to 30 million tons (10% of the total maize crop, according to analysts and traders), and therefore a maize shortage in the future. This could create opportunities for major exporters, like the United States and Ukraine, but it also threatens to increase global prices.
Chinese customs officials have suspended barley imports from Australia’s biggest grains exporter, claiming that they had detected weeds in a recent shipment; furthermore, Australian wine is still being dumped and subsidised in China, and beef exports from five slaughterhouses have been suspended, too. Now, the country’s government is concerned that a trade strike from China could affect also wheat exports. According to some, the country might respond to these import bans by stepping up cooperation on supply chains with Japan and India.
According to New Zealand’s official data agency, higher export prices for dairy and kiwifruit during the last quarter pushed overall export prices to their highest level in a while (the export price index rose by 2.4%, compared with a 0.2% fall during the previous quarter, while dairy export prices increased by 4.1%). This increase has been supported by favourable exchange rates after the New Zealand dollar fell as the coronavirus pandemic spread around the world.
Oxfam International Zimbabwe, with the financial support of the Swedish International Development Agency, will develop new solar irrigation pumps that will provide water to gardens for the production of horticulture products and to cattle farms, in order to alleviate poverty and food insecurity in three districts of the country, which are frequently affected by droughts and flash floods. Meanwhile, the European Union’s Ministers of Agriculture have recently discussed about developing a harmonized food labelling scheme that would make the indication of origin on food labels compulsory in the context of the Farm to Fork Strategy.
Oxfam International Zimbabwe’s Climate Change Adaptation for Rural Livelihoods Programme is funded by the Swedish International Development Agency and plans to set up community irrigation gardens in three different districts that face perennial droughts, flash floods and food shortages (which cause low productivity and poverty for farmers). Oxfam’s rural development programme is expected to set up gardens that are irrigated by a solar water system, that would provide income security for rural women and the youth through the sale of horticulture products.
The 27 EU Agriculture Ministers have recently come together during an informal meeting in Germany to discuss the increasing consumer demand on the origin of the food products they purchase. The EU executive is expected to develop a proposal for a harmonised food labelling scheme in the context of its Farm to Fork Strategy, and most of the ministers showed common interest in making the indication of origin on front-of-pack food labels compulsory. Italy is leading the group of countries in favour of a compulsory indication of origin, after adopting national schemes to specify the origin of tomatoes and durum wheat.
The Inter African Coffee Organization, with the support of the Intergovernmental Coffee Organization and of a non-for-profit organization that improves people’s lives worldwide, will implement an emergency intervention program that is expected to offset the negative consequences of the coronavirus pandemic on the East African coffee farmers. In North America, on the other hand, truck traffic between Canada and the United States is almost back to normal, but costs have increased in the distribution, production and processing of food products.
The Inter African Coffee Organisation, whose objective is to highlight the role of coffee in the socio-economic development of Africa, has recently joined forces with the International Coffee Organization and the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International to design an emergency intervention program that would alleviate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the continent’s coffee sector. The initiative is worth EUR 12 million and is expected to assist millions of smallholder coffee farmers across 11 countries in overcoming food and income security challenges for an initial three-year period.
Cross-border truck traffic between Canada and the United States, which had dropped steeply during the coronavirus lockdown, is now returning to near-normal levels (last week, truck volume was down by less than 2%). This is important as Canadian consumers have come back to buying and are purchasing more and more online, generating a shift in the transportation of goods. However, everything is now costing more to move around, and food products are more expensive to produce and to process.