Food losses and waste levels Indonesia (which are already extremely high in the country, making it the second-largest food waster in the world) increased during the coronavirus pandemic, due to the closures in the hospitality industry and the lack of proper processing technology and cold chain storage facilities. In the MENA region, on the other hand, Syria is currently facing frequent wildfires which are damaging crops and shrinking arable land, while Tunisian food and agricultural exports to neighboring countries have not recovered yet from the pandemic-induced disruptions.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
Indonesia is the second-largest food waster in the world, with 300 kilograms of waste per capita per year and a low awareness on food losses and waste. Because of the pandemic-induced food chain disruptions (including transportation restrictions), the risk of further food waste in the country is escalating: for example, the hospitality industry reported an 80% decrease in demand for fishery products, which go to waste due to a limited access to processing technologies and cold chain storage facilities in Indonesia.
In September, Syria endured dozens of wildfires in its agricultural hinterland and near the coastal regions, which consumed several square kilometres of forests for a whole week. Such fires are becoming increasingly common during the dry season, and could be caused by arson, or by the farmers that aim at clearing nearby land for cultivation. The war has further worsened some of these fires, which are shrinking arable land and drying up water sources, thus affecting agricultural productivity.
Tunisia’s exports to neighbouring countries have been decreasing ever since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the official statistics announced by the government show that the country’s agricultural and food exports (especially fishery products and fruits) to Libya fell by 17.5% at the end of April 2020. Furthermore, for the last two weeks, many Tunisian traders blocked trucks carrying vegetables and grains to Libya, asking the government to promote the recovery of local business.
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
Taiwan is slowly losing all the markets for its banana exports, despite being a top-quality fruits producer: after losing the Japanese and South Korean markets, Taiwan turned to Mainland China, which has recently started expanding its plantings, and now it is less reliant on banana imports. Meanwhile, the Philippines risk importing too much rice and therefore facing an oversupply of this commodity and a decrease in its prices. Therefore, the senator that chairs the senate committee on economic affairs urged the government to reduce imports and support the local production.
Despite having been a producer and exporter of high-quality fruits for many years, Taiwan is currently experiencing slow banana, pineapple and wax apple sales due to the fact that China (the county’s main destination for fruit exports) has been expanding its banana plantings and it does not rely on banana imports as much as it used to. Furthermore, banana prices have fallen to their lowest level in decades (to around TWD 2 for half a kilo).
According to the chairwoman of the Philippines’ senate committee on economic affairs, rice farm gate prices may plunge again, as they did last year when rice imports caused an oversupply of the commodity in the country. She also called on the government to assist the local farmers by providing them with more drying machines, tube wells, fertilizers and higher-yielding hybrid seeds, in order to boost the domestic production and reduce the imports.
In the United States, a new study funded by the US Department of Agriculture aims at improving the resiliency of the beef, pork, dairy and egg supply chains in the country, in order to mitigate the risk of facing pandemic-induced disruptions in the future. Furthermore, parts of the CARES Act funds were invested in the creation of a new livestock feed production infrastructure in one of the Hawaiian Islands. The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the other hand, is funding a rural development project in Tanzania, whose objective is to improve farmers’ productivity and incomes by implementing climate-smart solutions.
The coronavirus pandemic in the United States determined closures in the hospitality industry, changes to the consumers’ food consumption habits and needs, and labour shortages in the food processing sector, Consumers staying home also drove down the need for gasoline, and therefore ethanol, which had repercussions on the food industry (distillers grains are by-products in ethanol production). To prevent similar disruptions from happening again in the future, a newly funded USDA study aims at enhancing the resiliency of the beef, pork, dairy and egg supply chains in the country.
The Climate Resilient Agribusiness for Tomorrow project (funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and implemented by different entities, including the CGIAR’s Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security) will support over 6000 farmers in Tanzania to increase their productivity and income, by attracting investments from the private sector and promoting climate-smart solutions and innovations. For example, farmers will be able to use solar dryers and quality seeds to get better yields.
Many cattle ranchers from Kauai (the fourth-largest Hawaiian Island) used to ship off their herds to Oahu (the third-largest, and the one where Honolulu is located) to be finished and processed; however, the market disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have made this process difficult. This is why around USD 1.75 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding were allocated to the Kauai Economic Development Board, in order to establish new livestock feed production infrastructure in the island.
In the Latin America and the Caribbean region, the farmers are extremely vulnerable to the pandemic-induced disruptions, but their resilience was improved in some countries (such as Costa Rica, Argentina and Colombia), thanks to the use of big data, machine learning and e-commerce. The African countries, on the other hand, would largely benefit from an improved intra-African trade, because for the moment they are over-reliant on raw materials exports and manufactured products imports from foreign countries, such as China.
Agricultural producers in Latin America and the Caribbean are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the global health crisis has accelerated the uptake of new and innovative solutions for farmers in the region, like the widespread expansion of e-commerce or the enhanced use of big data and machine learning to advise farmers of the optimum times to water their crops in Costa Rica, Argentina and Colombia.
Africa predominantly exports raw materials and imports manufactured products to and from foreign countries, such as China. In order to improve its economic competitiveness, the African countries should focus on the creation of an integrated network of manufacturing and processing locations connected by efficient intra-African transportation services, which would determine an increase in trade and a lowering of energy and food prices with reduced inflation.