Between 2.7 million and 4.4 million children in Indonesia and more than 4.6 million children in Syria suffer from various degrees of food-insecurity: while in Indonesia a contributing factor is represented by the fact that around 1.3 billion tons of food go to waste every year (35% of that amount consists in fish which is wasted due to the fisheries supply chain’s inefficiencies that cause substantial post-harvest losses), most households in Syria cannot afford to buy nutritious fresh food (meat, fruit and vegetables), and have to rely on rice and grains for weeks. Meanwhile, the capacity of Port Botany’s Patrick terminal, in Australia, was cut by 40% last week, hampering the recovery of the country’s agricultural sector.
Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.
FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
The inefficiencies within Indonesia’s fisheries supply chain causes a 35% fish loss and waste along the catchment process from downstream to upstream, which contributes to the country’s malnutrition rates: the protein supply loss from these inefficiencies denies about 2.7 million to 4.4 million children in Indonesia an adequate nutrition supply. That’s why reducing post-harvest losses in the fishing industry is key to ensuring food safety, especially for the country’s children.
In Australia, the grounding of passenger flights has made farmers more reliant on shipping for perishable products. However, the Maritime Union of Australia is offering a peace deal to end its industrial action at Sydney’s Port Botany (which is crucial for getting products like pork, grain, wool and cotton to overseas markets) after the federal government accused it of extortion. This breakdown of operations caused a capacity cut by 40% in the port last week, which will hinder the recovery of the Australian agriculture sector from drought and COVID-19.
According to an international aid group, an additional 700,000 children in Syria face hunger as a result of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has further damaged the country’s already fragile economy: in the last six months, the total number of food-insecure children in Syria has risen to more than 4.6 million. Most of the households have relied on rice or grains for week, without the possibility to access to fresh food such as meat, fruit and vegetables.
IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES
While maize prices are still increasing in China, due to the devastating impact of typhoons and flooding on the croplands situated in the Corn Belt (and, according to the country’s minister of agriculture, due to market speculation and irrational hoarding), wheat prices in Pakistan seem to be more stable, compared to the last months, thanks to the government’s decision to give to the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) the responsibility to import smaller quantities of wheat from time to time (through the first bids, the TCP sought the import of around 300,000 tons of wheat).
On September 17, the government of Pakistan scrapped a tender for the import of 150,000 tons of wheat, because of an unfounded allegation of collusion; later on, the Economic Coordination Committee decided that the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (a state-owned commercial organization working under the ministry of commerce) would start importing wheat in the required quantities through small tenders from time to time, in order to maintain wheat supply at a reasonable price and to keep additional strategic reserves. The TCP has recently sought bids for the import of 300,000 tons of wheat.
Maize prices in China have recently hit an eight-year high because of extreme weather events such as typhoons and flooding that flattened large areas of cropland. Concurrently, Chinese maize imports hit their highest level in almost 30 years during the first eight months of 2020, raising concerns about a possible gap in domestic supply. However, China’s minister of agriculture has recently claimed that the country has ample supplies of maize, and that the recent price increases were determined by market speculation and irrational hoarding.
Two capacity building projects in West Africa are aiming at providing the Nigerian youth with the appropriate tools and knowledge to become successful future agriculture entrepreneurs, and at fighting the disruptive effects of aflatoxins on the crops (and on the food supply chain, more in general) in Ghana. In southwest China, on the other hand, a big data solution is improving the traceability of food products in this region, because it allows to immediately intervene in case food contaminations are detected across any of the stages of the supply chain.
Within the framework of the Empowering African Youths project, 30 young people from five northern states in Nigeria will be trained to be future agriculture entrepreneurs. The participants will be empowered with agronomical know-how and will have the possibility to study the operation of specific agricultural facilities and tools, such as the mobile digital soil laboratories for soil testing and analysis, the cargo tricycles to reach rural farming communities, and the tablets for data gathering.
In order to efficiently remove contaminated food materials from the supply chain, the Agricultural Products Safety Traceability System, which is a data-driven platform, was launched in Guiyang (southwest China). This big data system records the relevant information of the agricultural products (place of origin, transportation and maintenance conditions, and so on), thus facilitating the food traceability from their point of origin to their destinations across each level of the supply chain, so that if a problem arises, all actors can immediately identify where exactly the contamination occurred.
The Ghana Standards Authority has trained 40 agriculture extension officers in the Ashanti Region under the National Aflatoxin and Sensitization Management project, whose objective is to promote an inclusive agricultural transformation in the country by improving food safety and security through an increased awareness on aflatoxins (poisonous substances produced by certain kinds of fungi that can contaminate food crops and pose a serious threat to humans and livestock).
Russia is slowly affirming its position as a dominant force in the wheat world, thanks to the low prices of its wheat, which are granting the country the possibility to surpass the European Union and the United States (for example, Russia is progressively attracting Algeria away from France’s wheat exports). Meanwhile, agricultural mechanization in Sub-Saharan Africa is still lagging behind East Asia and South Asia: for the moment, there are two tractors per 1000 hectares of arable land in the region, which is the lowest level in the world.
While Russia was reliant on wheat imports 20 years ago, the country now accounts for a fifth of the global wheat market, grabbing export-market shares from the United States and the European Union. Russia is also seeking to extend the list of its partners: for example, thanks to the low prices of their wheat, Russian shippers have been already invited to Algerian tenders. Algeria is currently the largest customer of French wheat, but an increase in Russian supplies may undermine its position.
Mechanization presents a transformative potential for agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, as it gives an opportunity to smallholder farmers to transition from subsistence to commercial farming, reducing labour costs, improving productivity and promoting an efficient use of the agricultural inputs. Currently, there are two tractors per 1000 hectares in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is too low of a number, compared to East and South Asia that have respectively 18 and 12 tractors per hectare.