Ethiopia is one of the countries in the world that has been severely affected by the locust invasion that started at the beginning of 2020; recently, locust swarms have started forming again in the north-eastern region of the country, damaging sorghum fields and affecting smallholder farmers in the area. In the United States, on the other hand, ranchers in California will probably witness the long-term effects of the fires that ravaged the state during the summer on their beef cattle, which where exposed to smoke and could develop respiratory damages. Furthermore, turkey farmers, processors and retailers in the country have been damaged by the coronavirus pandemic, which produced a shift in consumer demand.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
According to the FAO’s Desert Locust situation update, numerous locust swarms continue to form in Ethiopia, and a few of them include adult locusts that are ready to breed. In the north-eastern part of the country, the swarms have recently damaged sorghum crops for a whole week, leaving farmers with empty harvests. Since January, the locust invasion has damaged an estimated 200,000 hectares of land, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people.
The coronavirus pandemic will interrupt 50 years of steadily increasing turkey consumption in the United States in November, as restaurant shutdowns, travel restrictions and social distancing will affect the traditional Thanksgiving celebrations. The shift in demand is already impacting on turkey farmers, processors and retailers, who are all trying to predict the changes in consumer preferences and act accordingly.
The weeks of exposure to the smoke produced by wildfires in California may create short and long-term health risks not just for people, but also for beef cattle: for example, the intense heat has left many cows unable to nurse their calves, and some of them have been hit by respiratory damage caused by smoke entering their lungs.
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
Sugar and wheat prices are currently higher than normal in Zimbabwe, which is affecting processors (due to the high costs of production), and more in particular the volumes of production, and therefore the country’s overall exports. Australia, on the other hand, has recently become the country that exports the most expensive slaughter cattle in the world, due to the two years of drought that determined a shortage in the whole country.
According to the managing director of a food manufacturing firm, the prices of sugar and wheat are too high in Zimbabwe, and this is affecting the company’s operations and, more in particular, its costs and its volumes of production. Due to the higher pricing of sugar on the local market, the firm is importing this ingredient from regional countries, such as South Africa, and it is currently unable to improve its production, and therefore to contribute to the country’s overall exports.
Due to a shortage of slaughter cattle, heavy cow prices in Queensland, Australia, have hit record rates. Due to the two years of drought that fuelled herd reductions (and therefore an overall livestock supply shortage), even before this last hike, Australian slaughter cattle had become the most expensive among those of the major beef exporting countries in the world in 2020, surpassing the United States, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina.
In Liberia, the World Food Programme joined other UN agencies in calling for global action to improve the systems that produce and distribute food, so that they can better resist to external shocks, such as the coronavirus pandemic. For example, these UN specialised agencies are working with the government of Liberia on the implementation of the Rural Women Economic Empowerment and the Peacebuilding Fund projects. Meanwhile, the governor of Minnesota, USA, has recently announced new CARES Act financial aid to meat and poultry processors in the state, while the Colorado State University has been studying the success of several food provision initiatives in five US cities during the pandemic.
The governor of Minnesota has recently announced a multi-million aid package to support farmers. The biggest part of the new aid package (over USD 5 million) will be used for direct payments to turkey and pork producers, while around USD 1 million will be devoted to companies or individuals looking to expand or open a meat processing facility in the state, and to alleviate the impacts of the pandemic on the supply chain.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is still supporting the Liberian government-led Covid-19 Household Food Support Programme, which started in May and aims at distributing food to 2.5 million vulnerable people. Furthermore, the WFP is collaborating with other UN agencies (FAO, ILO, UN Women and UNDP) to implement two other development programmes that seek to enhance peace and community-driven growth for vulnerable rural youth and women.
As part of a USD 482,642 grant from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, the Colorado State University (CSU) studied emergency food provisions that supported children and families in five US cities during the pandemic. The researches have recently published the results of the study, which highlight that the success of food security programs depends on cross-sector collaboration, adaptable supply chains and the ability to address gaps in service to increased risk populations.
In Africa, the Standard Bank is working to enable smallholders and agribusinesses to grasp their potential to contribute to the achievement of Africa’s development goals through agriculture, by providing training on best practices to the farmers, and by creating a marketplace platform that facilitates the collaboration between smallholders and large-scale buyers. In Latin America, during the first 9 months of 2020, Brazil has become the second-largest buyer of soybean and oilseed from Paraguay, thanks to the latter’s enhanced production and due to Brazil’s need to replenish its stocks after it exported large quantities of soybean to China.
With 65% of the world’s available uncultivated arable land, African countries have the potential to reach their development goals and become major players in the global food system; however, agribusinesses in the continent still face serious challenges, such as poor supply channels and access to markets, inadequate infrastructure and lack of knowledge of modern farming practices. Standard Bank engaged around 150 stakeholders (farmers, industries, input suppliers, and so on) to build a platform that brings together several digitised solutions that address these challenges.
According to Paraguay’s Chamber of Grains and Oilseed Exporters and Traders, Brazil has become the second-largest soybean importer from Paraguay during the current season, by purchasing around 620,000 tons of soybeans and 5,73 million tons of oilseed (19% more year-on-year) between January and September 2020. This is due to the fact that Brazil has to fill its own soybean reserves after it exported large quantities of this product to China, and that Paraguay has improved its production levels this year.