Gold mining processes in Nigeria are putting cocoa farms in danger, as the heavy metals that are dispersed into the soil during such procedures heavily impact on the quality of the crops, making them unsuitable for human and animal consumption. Venezuela, on the other hand, is currently facing a severe petrol crisis, which is affecting prices. Since most of the agricultural products in the country are grown in the Andean region, such crisis could further endanger food supply, because the farmers need gasoline and diesel for nearly every step of the crop management, from sowing to harvesting.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
During the second quarter of 2020, cocoa became Nigeria’s largest agricultural export. However, the impact of gold mining on cocoa farms across the country could be devastating for this commodity and for the farmers that grow it. In fact, lead exposure during gold mining processes increases the amounts of heavy metals (many of which are associated with gold in its raw form) in the soil, which make farms unproductive, because the crops absorb them and become unsuitable for human and animal consumption.
The farmers from the Andean region, in Venezuela, are the ones that provide the whole population with vegetables, potatoes, fruits and coffee, thanks to the fact that a favourable weather in this region allows around 200,000 families of smallholder farmers to sow and harvest crops all year long. However, every stage in the agronomic management of the crops (sowing, plowing, applying agrochemicals, transporting the products, and so on) requires gasoline and diesel, whose prices are currently very high in Venezuela.
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
While food prices are likely to increase in the United Kingdom as soon as the Brexit transition period ends (when new trade tariffs will be applied to food products crossing the borders to and from the European Union), meat prices in the United States are finally beginning to decrease, after severe shortages affected the consumers between April and August. In India, a parallel increase in demand for eggs (which are thought to have beneficial properties against COVID-19) and decrease in production (caused by the closure of many poultry processing plants in Mumbai, due to the lockdown measures) in causing a hike in egg prices.
A new report released today by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) confirms that the consumers in the United Kingdom will face food price increases starting from January 2020, unless an urgent and pragmatic action is taken by the country’s government, due to higher trade tariffs that will apply to food products starting from the end of the Brexit transition period. Agricultural production and food processing will also be affected, impacting farmers and processors across the UK.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the consequences of the meat shortages that came with the coronavirus pandemic in the United States are finally beginning to dwindle. Therefore, supplies are stabilizing, retailers can now promote low-priced beef, and some of the meats that were unaffordable between April and August are within reach again (or even cheaper than they were before the start of the coronavirus outbreaks in the country).
After potato, tomato and onion prices have recently recorded considerable increases in India, it is now the turn of eggs in Mumbai, where retail prices for this kitchen supply have risen to INR 80 a dozen (while last month they were sold on average for INR 65). Most of the traders are blaming this hike in prices on a shortfall in production (caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which determined many poultry farm closures in Mumbai), in parallel with an increased demand (allegedly driven by doctors in hospitals, advising patients to consume eggs in order to build immunity against COVID-19).
The European Union has recently launched two rural development initiatives in Kenya, Ivory Coast and Ghana: the first one will target the Kenyan cassava production, which has been decreasing over the last 10 years and was further affected by the coronavirus pandemic; the latter aims at improving the sustainability and productivity of cocoa production in Ghana and the Ivory Coast through technical assistance. Six Irish international charities will also assist rural communities in several developing countries in getting back on their feet after the disruptions caused by the global pandemic.
The European Commission has recently launched an initiative that aims at improving sustainability in the cocoa sector in the Ivory Coast and Ghana (which together account for 70% of the global cocoa production), by expressing recommendations and providing technical assistance through partnerships and collective actions between EU member states, cocoa growers and civil society organizations. Furthermore, this multi-stakeholder dialogue is meant to boost the sector’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result of inadequate quality seeds, cassava production in Kenya has decreased over the last 10 years. That is why the European Union will improve the competitiveness of cassava production in the country through a KES 650 million financing that is targeted at improving farm mechanization and value addition. Furthermore, this financing will be used to improve the crops’ resilience to diseases and pests, which represent a threat to food security in specific counties in Kenya.
Six Irish international aid organizations will jointly raise funds from the Irish public in order to support Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lebanon and Bangladesh, where the coronavirus pandemic determined a hike in transport costs and food scarcities as a result of stockpiling and panic buying, and hampered the activities of many smallholder farmers. The funds that will be gathered will be used to keep markets and supply chains open for markets.
Thanks to the financing provided by the African Development Bank, the construction of a new one-stop border post will ease agricultural trade between Zambia and Malawi. On the other hand, the communiques from the recent EU summits seem to go in an opposite direction, as they hint at a more protectionist and assertive Union by revealing the EU27 leaders’ objective of achieving a strategic autonomy.
The construction of a new one-stop border post (funded by the African Development Bank) will ease cross border trade between Zambia and Malawi, which is particularly important for the latter, that expects to export more agriculture value added products to Zambia. Furthermore, since beverage, alcohol and confectionery industries have reported several smuggling activities in the area, the new border post will be useful to curb the smuggling of goods between Zambia and Malawi.
The outcomes of the recent European Union summits in Brussels seem to suggest that the EU will adopt stricter measures limiting access to the European market for subsidized competitors outside the region. Furthermore, the impression that a more protectionist and assertive EU is emerging is reinforced by the repetition of the terms “autonomy” and “sovereignty” in the summit communiques, which suggest the leaders’ intention to set the attainment of a “strategic autonomy” as a key objective of the Union.