Today’s media coverage offers data related to the effects of drought and of the coronavirus pandemic (and other global trends, such as the increasing world population) on food and agricultural production in different countries during the first half of 2020: in Scotland, the pandemic determined a contraction of the country’s red meat exports outside of the United Kingdom, and the prospects for improvement are not particularly good, considering that it exports beef mainly to the European Union and the Brexit transition period ends on January 1st, 2020; Uganda is currently struggling to produce enough fish for its growing population, due to post-harvest losses and illegal fishing; a drought in Bolivia is contributing to the country’s reduced banana production output and exports.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
From August 2019 to July 2020, the total value of Scotland’s red meat exports outside of the United Kingdom has declined by 2% below their five-year average, due to the near-closure of export markets during the early phases of the coronavirus pandemic, which has weakened the demand throughout the second quarter of 2020. Furthermore, Scotland exports meat mainly to European countries, such as Italy and France (which account for around 55% of the total Scottish beef exports), meaning that with the end of the Brexit transition period, it will be difficult to maintain the same export volumes as before.
Due to the rapid population growth in Uganda, to the limited investment in fish farming and to the high costs of production (which, in turn, cause higher post-harvest losses and stimulate illegal fishing), the country is currently facing a fish shortage, as Uganda’s waters are not producing enough fish to meet the local demand. Since the demand for fish in the next ten years will rise drastically, it is important for Uganda to focus on improving investments in fish production and post-harvest handling.
A prolonged lack of rainfall in Bolivia is causing a drop in banana production by 50%. This also affected the country’s exports: according to the National Institute of Statistics, between January and July 2020, banana exports from Bolivia fell by 11% in volume and by 1% in value, and the producers estimate that they have lost more than USD 60 million due to the unfavourable weather conditions and to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
The continuing restrictions on wheat imposed by the Nigerian government to limit the negative effects of a reduced supply are contributing to an increase in food prices and to a decreasing consumption of bread in the country. Furthermore, according to the USDA, Nigeria will keep relying on wheat and maize imports during the 2020-21 marketing year, as the domestic grain production is expected to further decrease. On the other hand, the United Kingdom and France are facing a reduced production of lamb and mutton that is also affecting prices (which are higher compared to last year and to the five-year average).
According to the US Department of Agriculture, Nigeria will continue to rely on grain imports for food security, as both the domestic wheat and maize production are estimated to decrease in the 2020-21 marketing year (also due to the difficulties posed to the coronavirus pandemic, such as increasing post-harvest losses), while wheat imports are expected to total 4.9 million tons. Furthermore, the Nigerian government’s restrictions on wheat contribute to the increase in the cost of flour, to the rising food prices and to the reduced consumption of bread.
According to the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the production of sheep meat in the country has decreased by 7% in October year-on-year to 27,400 tons, which brings the total production in 2020 to 242,000 tons (4% lower then at the same point last year). Furthermore, finished and store prices have been high compared to both last year and the five-year average, in the UK and also in France (due to a situation of tight supply).
In Sub-Saharan Africa, companies and international organizations are partnering to provide farmers with equipment and training in order to improve their livelihoods: more in particular, a brewing company and the WFP have joined efforts in Zambia to distribute high-yielding sorghum seeds to farmers and to improve their access to insurance, agricultural extension services and to markets, while two organizations that work for the improvement of farmers’ livelihoods in Kenya are currently teaching risk and financial management to village champions, in order to educate thousands of farmers in the rural areas of the country about the importance of insuring their produce. In the Philippines, on the other hand, the government is supporting rice farmers by providing farmer cooperatives and associations with new farm machineries.
A Zambian brewing and beverage company has partnered with the World Food Programme to purchase sorghum produced by around 1000 smallholder farmers in the Gwembe and Pemba districts. Furthermore, the farmers will be provided with access to high-yielding sorghum seeds, access to insurance to protect their crops from climate shocks, access to agricultural extension services and markets, and training on sorghum crop management and on post-harvest loss management.
The Philippines’ Department of Agriculture has distributed PHP 88 million worth of farm machineries (tractors, precision seeders, combine harvesters and mechanical dryers) to at least 64 farmer cooperatives and associations in the Pangasinan province through the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. Such machineries will be utilized for land preparation, plant establishment, harvesting, threshing and grain drying, and therefore they will help enhance the farmers’ productivity by increasing yields and reducing post-harvest losses.
The Agriculture and Climate Risk Enterprise (ACRE) and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) have partnered to educate smallholder farmers in Kenya about the importance of agri-insurance, and to encourage them to insure their produce, by training village champions on agronomic practices, financial education and risk management and using them to reach farmers in the remote rural areas of the country. Since 2018, they have trained more than 500 village champions, and in 2020 alone, more than 43,000 smallholder farmers have been reached.
In the United Kingdom, haulers and farmers are still mostly unaware of the policies that will replace the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy and of the procedures that will take place at the border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland after the Brexit transition period ends. In Asia, on the other hand, both Vietnam and Thailand are facing an increase in rice export prices due to a growing export demand and a decreased rice production, while new season supplies are rising in India from Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. Finally, one of the effects of the establishment of a Customs Union in the East African Community is that Kenya is continuously supplied with Tanzanian potatoes, which determined an increase in the supply of onions, and therefore a drop in their prices.
We are now less than eight weeks from the end of the Brexit transition period, but many farmers and landowners in the United Kingdom still do not know how the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy will be replaced, and there is also lack of clarity over trading arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the construction of the border inspection posts has not started, and there are significant delays in the delivery of the haulier handbook).
The increase in export demand from the Philippines and China, the onset of winter and the sparse rainfall have all contributed to the increase in Vietnamese rice export prices. In Thailand, similarly, the beginning of the winter season and the lower rainfall prompted worries that the volume of new crops being harvested at present would be lower. Finally, new season supplies are rising in India, while export demand is currently weaker than normal.
Price fluctuations, high costs of production and the competition from the produce from Tanzania, whose onions flow continuously to Kenya, are pushing Kenyan farmers to put their farms into other uses. Onions are the third most consumed vegetables in Kenya (after tomatoes and brassicas), but local farmers have barely met this demand, because of the intense competition from Tanzania and also because of post-harvest losses (which are between 40% and 60% for what concerns onions).