Analysis by the National Farmers’ Union has found that the proportion of the food that the Britons consume and that is produced in the UK has plummeted from 80% in 1980 to just 64% now. External shocks such as the current coronavirus pandemic expose the importance of increasing food self-sufficiency: this is especially true for the United Kingdom, which imports 93% of its fruit and 47% of its vegetables. More in particular, the country is still reliant on soy imports from Brazil, where this commodity is mostly grown unsustainably by creating agricultural land through deforestation. According to the Sustainable Food Trust, the British consumers and livestock farmers could reduce their dependence on imported protein and rely more on home-produced feed.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
According to the National Farmers’ Union, the United Kingdom would run out of food in just one week if it was solely reliant on homegrown produce, because only 64% of the food consumed in the country is also produced in the UK. This statistic should bring the government to prioritize food supply, and the consumers to purchase locally sourced food products: in fact, countries with low self-sufficiency are more vulnerable to exogenous shocks, and the UK currently imports 93% of its fruit and 47% of its vegetables because only 0.9% of the agricultural land in the country is used to grow crops for human consumption.
Free wine tastings in Australian cellars turned the consumers’ attention away from beer throughout the decades, but within the next year or two they will probably be the exception rather than the rule because of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, after closing for two months, most of the winemakers in Australia reacted to the disappearance of the wholesale market and to a general decline in average spend per bottle in the country (mostly due to unemployment, as almost 600,000 jobs have been lost in Australia) by putting an end to free wine tastings.
According to the Sustainable Food Trust (a registered charity in the UK), it is preferable to use milk from grass-fed cows instead of soy milk in terms of environmental sustainability, because the global consumption of soy products is furthering deforestation in the Amazon rainforest (where much of the commodity is grown). Furthermore, livestock is frequently fed with soy in animal feed, which accounts for a large part of the profitability of the unsustainable soy industry. Since the UK’s government has already announced that it will reduce the number of products derived from deforestation from the country’s supply chain, this could entail a general decrease in the UK’s reliance on soy.
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
Food prices skyrocketed in the first half of 2020 in Nigeria, and more recently in Pakistan. This situation especially concerns fruit and vegetable markets in the biggest cities, where consumers are contracting their purchases due to the price hikes. Such increases were initially attributed to the Eid al-Adha in Pakistan, while those in Nigeria trace back to the coronavirus lockdown measures and to other issues that have worsened amid the pandemic (such as the displacements of rural communities caused by conflicts and banditry, and the general difficulties farmers face in obtaining access to credit and farm inputs).
This year, Australia is expected to produce up to 700,000 tons of chickpeas, and Bangladesh appears to be the most interested in purchasing this commodity (around 150,000 tons), followed by the United Arab Emirates (100,000 tons) and Pakistan (85,000 tons). India used to be the main destination for chickpeas from Australia, but it introduced a 60% tariff in 2018 to protect prices for its domestic crop. For what concerns fava beans, on the other hand, the retreat of drought conditions in South-Eastern Australia further decreased the domestic demand for this pulse, and Egypt (the world’s biggest market for fava beans) has stopped importing pulses amid its economic concerns (caused by the coronavirus pandemic).
Vegetable and fruit prices have recently gone up in Pakistan despite the decline in exports as the government increased their prices in the official rate lists: onions are sold at PKR 60 per kilo (against the official price fixed at PRK 34 per kilo) and tomatoes at PKR 110 per kilo (officially fixed at PRK 85 per kilo) in Lahore’s markets; garlic and potatoes witnessed similar price increases. Weeks ago, the price increases were ascribed to the Eid al-Adha, while this time the government has not given any reason. Many traders in the markets are reducing the quantities of fruit and vegetables that they stock because most of the consumers are complaining about the high prices.
Food prices have risen dramatically during the first half of 2020 in Nigeria, mainly because of the lockdown measures that were taken to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic (border closures, inadequate food supply, shutdown of markets, and so on). Furthermore, there are other factors behind the price hikes in Nigeria’s best food producing regions, such as the difficulties that farmers still face in accessing to credit and to farm inputs, and the displacements of farming communities due to banditry and communal clashes. Ultimately, the consumer price index for food rose from 14.9% in February to 15.18% in June, and it is forecasted to reach 17% in September.
Part of the funds provided by the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program in the United States have been recently used by a dairy farmer in Canton, New York, who organized a milk and food distribution to avoid the waste of various food surpluses and to assist families in need. In Nigeria, on the other hand, the government of Cross River has reached an agreement with an agriculture specialist company in order to boost its cassava, potato and sesame seed production.
In Canton, New York, a dairy farmer, around 50 law enforcement officers and various volunteers distributed 2,000 gallons of milk and 21,000 pounds of food last week, which were previously purchased through two different processors with government-funded grants under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. This initiative had the double effect of countering food losses and waste, and helping families in need that cannot afford to buy specific products.
The Cross River state in Nigeria has reached an agreement with an agriculture specialist company that provides innovative technology and financing to harness its rich agricultural potentials in order to create job opportunities. More in particular, this partnership will focus on enhancing the local production of cassava, and the processing of sesame seeds for export to Europe. Furthermore, a special attention will be reserved to ornamental flowers for the production of perfume concentrate and to the production of potatoes.
According to the International Monetary Fund, some of the smallest African economies will suffer a contraction of up to 7.8%, due to the global recession prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. One of the initiatives taken by industrialized countries to support developing countries is the UK’s Vulnerable Supply Chains Facility, which will help ensure the steady supply of food products by improving health services for many factory workers and by protecting the livelihoods of the farmers.
The International Monetary Fund has projected a deep coronavirus-induced global recession that could drag the GDP of the African economies into a fall of about 1.4%, with smaller economies facing a contraction of up to 7.8% (mainly because of a sharp decrease in primary commodity exports). This is likely to determine a reduction in those governments’ capacity to extend public services that are fundamental to respond effectively to the crisis. Since there is a connection between economic recession and food insecurity in Africa, and the continent is heavily reliant on food imports, the economic losses will have repercussions on the most vulnerable.
The UK’s government has launched a new GBP 4.85 million facility to support supply chains and workers in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana, which provide huge proportions of the world’s food, flowers and clothes (Ghana alone produces a quarter of the world’s cocoa, for example). This funding includes investments from UK businesses, and it has the objective of improving working conditions and supporting greater access to healthcare and health information for workers in some of the world’s poorest countries.
Compared to other vegetable oils such as soybean, rapeseed or sunflower, palm oil is the highest yielding one, meaning that it also requires less land to produce the same volume of produce as other edible oils. Therefore, banning palm oil and substituting it with other crops may actually result in larger deforestations. It would be better to work towards deforestation-free palm oil in the biggest palm oil producing countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, by encouraging companies to buy only RSPO-certified palm oil (which is annually assessed to ensure constant compliance with good practices).