Kenya witnessed the combined disruptive effects of the biggest locust swarm in 70 years and of a global pandemic (both prompted by climate change phenomena). Covid-19 presents a challenge of affordability for many households, and cash transfers may represent the best solution to provide food and promote financial inclusion on the one hand, and to avoid social contact (which would characterize food distribution, for example) on the other. Furthermore, a USD 1.5 million grant provided by the African Development Bank and a USD 43 million grant provided by the World Bank could be used to assist pastoral households and farmers by equipping them with technologies that prevent future locust swarms to cause further disruption and to raise the number of food insecure people.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
The economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic (caused by movement and trade restrictions, which put a considerable strain on food supply chains) are still causing difficulties for governments across the world, many of which are trying to guarantee food security for millions of people. Most of the people that will face acute food insecurity during the year live in low and middle-income countries with inadequate or inexistent social safety nets. In Kenya, a possible solution to this issue is represented by cash transfers to food insecure households, which provide people with flexibility and choice in determining food, according to the specific circumstances and dietary requirements.
The swarm of desert locusts (the world’s most devastating pest) that damaged Kenyan crops from December 2019 has been the worst in the country in the last 70 years, and it has quickly spread to dozens of other countries in East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Another swarm is likely, and it could put between 5 million and 25 million people at risk of acute food shortage in East Africa. The Kenyan government’s intervention focused on the Northern part of the country, which was more heavily affected, and it consisted in aerial sprayings of pesticides. Furthermore, two grants provided by the African Development Bank and the World Bank could be used to equip farmers with chemical pesticides, drones or electrical grids.
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
Since Lebanon’s capital is the main entry point for food products in the country, the explosion that destructed Beirut’s port (and with it a grain silo that was capable of containing up to 120,000 tons of wheat) may determine a serious food shortage in Lebanon. In Vietnam and Thailand, rice export prices remain high due to production issues: the current harvest in the former country is coming to its end (and the next one will not begin until October), while rice production in Thailand was heavily affected by a drought earlier this year. Finally, food prices in the US’ grocery stores remain high due to additional distribution costs born by food processing companies.
Following the explosion that shook Lebanon’s capital last week, thousands of people currently lack housing, food and medical supplies. More in particular, FAO’s representative in Lebanon determined that the large silo at the port (a 120,000 tons capacity structure) that was destroyed in the blast was the only major grain silo in the country: since Lebanon imports almost all of its wheat from abroad, and Beirut’s port is the main entry point for food products, the destruction of these fundamental infrastructures may determine serious shortages in the country’s food supply. With banks in crisis and one of the world’s biggest public debt, Lebanon has limited resources to repair the damage caused by the explosion.
As the summer-autumn harvest is coming to an end in Vietnam, the reduced production of rice in the country determined an increase in export prices, which rose to USD 470 per ton toward the end of last week. Furthermore, the supply crunch pushed local traders (worried that they will not be able to fulfil their export contracts signed with Cuba, Malaysia and the Philippines) to hoard rice in anticipation of higher prices. A similar issue is affecting Thailand, where rice prices remained high due to a strong local currency, deterred buyers, and a drought earlier in the year affected rice production, so that prices are likely to stay high despite the recent rainfall.
When the coronavirus pandemic began, supermarkets in the United States were able to manage supply and demand by limiting the amount of meat consumers could buy. However, prices are still high in grocery stores: initially, it was due to the fact that the coronavirus outbreaks forced many meatpacking plants to reduce or suspend their production, but now the price increases reflect the additional distribution costs put on meat processors. In fact, food processing companies increased production in plants that were not affected by a labour shortage, which often added to cost. That distribution cost is now determining the higher prices in grocery stores.
Agricultural development initiatives in Morocco and India currently include a large plantation program and a mechanization development program. In the Tiznit Province (Southern Morocco), the government and the Green Climate Fund co-financed a rural development project that over the next three years intends to plant argan trees over an area of 400 hectares. In India, on the other hand, all states will benefit from the Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanization, which aims at providing small and marginal farmers with technical training and financial assistance to rent machinery and equipment. Meanwhile, in Lebanon a group of different UN agencies are joining efforts to help all the people that were affected by the explosion that shook the capital city last week.
The Arganiculture Development in Degraded Environments Program (Programme de Développement de l’Arganiculture en Environnement Dégradé), implemented in the Tiznit Province, Morocco, was co-financed by the Green Climate Fund and by the Moroccan government, and will determine the plantation of argan trees over an area of 400 hectares and over a period of 36 months. Morocco is the universal depositary of the argan tree, but its density in the country has decreased during the last century. Hopefully, the increasing international demand for argan oil products will drive the country to continue promoting the conservation and enhancement of argan ecosystems.
Different UN agencies are working together to help Beirut’s citizens recover from the effects of the explosion that ripped through the city’s port last week. The UN Humanitarian Affairs Office has released USD 6 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to assist hospitals, repair damaged homes and provide logistical support, while the World Food Programme will import wheat and flour. Furthermore, the World Health Organization sent 20 tons of health supplies, while the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration are both assisting migrants and refugees living in precarious situations.
The Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanization is implemented by the Indian government in every state of the country, and its aim is to increase the reach of farm mechanization to small and marginal farmers and to the regions where the availability of farm power is low, and to create awareness through capacity building activities. Mechanization is a fundamental driver for the sustainable development of the agriculture sector, as it reduces the cost of operations and increases production by reducing losses. The Indian government plans to reach these goals by conducting regular performance testing and by offering financial assistance to small and marginal farmers.
In Kenya and Ghana, the movement and trade restrictions imposed by the governments to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic determined supply chain disruptions that caused difficulties to traders and healthcare workers, aggravating the already existing logistical hurdles in these countries (mostly represented by poor road infrastructure). In Central Africa, on the other hand, the governments of Gabon and of the Republic of the Congo are focusing on creating economic value from the Congo Basin rainforest, while preserving its biodiversity at the same time.
Gabon and the Republic of the Congo have recently come up with different initiatives to protect the Congo Basin rainforest while ensuring that people continue benefiting from the natural services that the forest provides. For example, the Republic of the Congo issued a new law that allows for a more sustainable management of the country’s vast forests, while Gabon is planning to safeguard the forests’ biodiversity by creating jobs in forestry. In fact, since foresters in Gabon usually resort to deforestation because they do not make much money, Gabon’s Ministry of Water and Forests intends to focus on making tropical timber a valuable commodity for the citizens, so that foresters will stop turning forests into palm oil, soy or sugar cane plantations.
Since many manufacturing industries shut down and different African countries closed their borders following the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Kenya’s and Ghana’s merchants and health centres are struggling to carry out their activities the way they did before the pandemic. Furthermore, trucks transport the majority of goods in Africa, but drivers are exposed to the virus: this is why transport companies reduced the number of their staff and their shipments. This resulted in the fact that many rural health centres in Ghana often cannot get supplies from the capital and other big cities, and many merchants in Kenya cannot sell products that they normally import from other countries.