Despite the growing demand for food from food banks and pantries in the United States (In Iowa, for example, the number of food insecure people increased by 67% in recent months) and the empty grocery stores, farmers continued dumping agricultural and food products for quite some time during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. This determined further disruptions along the food supply chain in the country, and balanced the amounts of GHG emissions due to an increase in food waste. In India, turning to e-commerce seems to be the best opportunity for farmers to limit their post-harvest losses and to boost their incomes, thanks to the improved grading, tracing and labelling of their products.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
Indian farmers still face astounding amounts of post-harvest losses, as in many cases they are not able to reach a large customer base. In India, technology supported the identification of gaps in different sectors, such as manufacturing, healthcare and finance, and it would serve a similar purpose in the context of agriculture, which currently hires around 50% of the total workforce in the country. For example, e-commerce could ease problems connected to the high levels of fragmentation in the supply chain, the large volumes of produce traded and the quality and costs of the products. It would also enable farmers to adopt technologies that are suitable for enhancing agricultural practices.
The coronavirus pandemic and all its effects, including shutdowns, layoffs and furloughs, brought many new people in the United States to apply for food assistance programs or to visit a food pantry for the first time. Because of this sudden increased demand for their services, food banks and pantries had to rethink the way they operate while food supply chains were facing the interruptions caused by the pandemic. The situation is even worse in specific areas of the US, which are called “food deserts” because they do not have a grocery store readily accessible nearby.
The coronavirus pandemic determined a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as people are flying and driving less; however, such a decrease will not be as significant as hoped because of food waste. During the early phases of the pandemic, harvests and dairy products were dumped by farmers despite the growing demand from food banks and the empty grocery stores in the United States. That’s due to the fact that farms generally do not sell directly to grocery stores or food banks, and changing distributors on the fly is not easy.
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
Food prices remain high in the United States for poultry, beef and pork in grocery stores, and for rice in Bangladesh due to the recent floods. More in particular, Bangladesh’s government decided to face the damages caused by floods in half of its districts by importing rice in the near future. The negotiations between the United Kingdom and Japan over a new free trade agreement (the first one since the UK left the European Union) recently reached a stalemate as Japan does not seem interested in increasing the quota of tariff-free cheese exports from the UK, because of a low demand for imported cheese in the country.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the US Department of Commerce, during the first half of 2020 meat and poultry prices spiked nearly 11%, beef prices increased by 20% and pork prices by 8.5%; and the same goes for other food products. Such sudden hikes in food prices exposed the fact that the food distribution systems currently in place cannot bear the burden of unpredictable events like a global pandemic. Despite being now six months into the pandemic, things are not entirely back to normal as many meat processing plants are still closed in the US.
The free-trade agreement the UK and Japan are currently negotiating would be the first one outside of the European Union for the former in 47 years. However, the talks have recently stalled over cheese (a commodity that the United Kingdom imports for the most part). Under the current EU-Japan deal, only a quota of exports of blue cheeses are tariff free: the UK would like to improve on those terms, but Japan believes that Britain’s cheese market in the country is unlikely to grow in the future. Furthermore, there’s a high incidence of lactose intolerance in Japan, and a lack of demand for imported cheese due to a ban on shipping milk between prefectures in the country.
Rice prices in Bangladesh have remained unusually high for the last few months due to the floods that affected around half of the country’s districts. According to retailers, rice prices increased by BDT 100 per bag of 50 kilograms on the wholesale market, and if they remain stable in the near future they could hurt consumers, as many people lost their incomes due to the coronavirus pandemic. In response to this hike in prices, the government proposed to import rice in order to keep the market stable, and the prime minister approved this proposal last week.
Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture has recently provided financial support to many meat processing plants and producers around the state, in order to improve its own capacity to process or store livestock and poultry in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. The Philippines’ Department of Agriculture, on the other hand, is currently focusing on digitalising agriculture in an effort to reduce logistics and storage costs, benefiting both producers and consumers. Finally, Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture has received a donation of personal protective equipment and other health supplies from Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development to protect workers in the cashew industry from getting infected with the coronavirus.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has recently awarded USD 208,213 to 46 livestock processing plants and producers in the state to help them increase capacity for slaughter processing and storage in aftermath of the food supply chain disruptions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, the MDA will grant a USD 345,000 financing to nine other meat processors to expand their capacity in order to make immediate impact on the state’s ability to process or store Minnesota-raised livestock, poultry, milk and eggs.
The Philippines’ Department of Agriculture (DA) is focusing on agriculture digitalisation in order to expand market access and reduce logistics and storage costs, thus allowing farmers and fishers to achieve bigger yields and increase their incomes. More in particular, the DA it is accelerating the development of digital roadmaps for the agri-fishery sector, which will benefit also the consumers: in fact, digital marketing allows them to access fresh produce without having to visit traditionally crowded public markets. Finally, new technologies may support the identification of climate-determined comparative advantages in terms of crops.
Thanks to the Competitive Cashew Initiative, which was commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, actors in the cashew value chain were assisted in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in Ghana, through the donation of personal protective equipment and other essential health supplies. The new equipment was delivered to Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and it will help workers in the cashew processing plants respect social distancing while seating and travelling to work.
The entry into operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam must be observed in the context of the Ethiopian limnology: there are many trans-boundary rivers in the country that drain natural resources out of Ethiopia and transport them to neighbouring countries such as Egypt and Sudan. A possible solution to this issue, which has a great impact on national development and resource conservation, is represented by water catchments and dam construction. In Western Africa, on the other hand, the CAOPA is pressuring the African Union to take action to ensure that fishers and fishmongers are able to continue their activities despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Many rivers in Ethiopia are made of several border-crossing small rivers that drain out natural resources (water, fertile soils, minerals and seeds) to the neighbouring countries, such as Sudan and Egypt. For example, the River Abay drains out water and erodes vast amounts of fertile soils, humus and litters, carrying them downstream and turning into an important source of livelihood for Egypt and of power generation and irrigation for Sudan. Hence, Ethiopia is currently investing a huge amount of national wealth in Sudan and Egypt without any return.
The African Confederation of Professional Organizations of Artisanal Fisheries (Confédération Africaine des Organisations de Pêche Artisanale) is a confederation of fishing organizations from Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea. The Confederation called upon the African Union to make sure that urgent measures are taken to allow fishers, fishmongers and women fish processors to continue their activities despite the coronavirus pandemic. The fisheries sector is fundamental to ensure food security in the continent, considering that it employs 10 million people in the African coastal communities.
The German federal government will enforce those rules that require European companies to meet specific standards of due diligence to stop practices that cause environmental damage in their supply chains, increasing the pressure to reduce the import of beef, palm oil and soy from companies that accelerate deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Germany hopes to address this topic during the German EU Council Presidency, when it will have the opportunity to further explore this issue with the other representatives of the EU member states.