FAO’s Big Data tool on food chains
under the COVID-19 pandemic


NEWS DIGEST 25/6/2020

Selected daily news on food chain disruptions and countries responses to the COVID-19 impact on food chains.

Fisher

FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS

The coronavirus pandemic similarly impacted on both fishery and the meatpacking industry: on the one hand, the various market disruptions and fishing closures (which add to the general risk for fishermen in small boats and close quarters to get infected, and to the negative impact of climate change on fish population and ocean acidification) are seriously hampering the work of many fishermen, especially small-scale fishers; on the other hand, the meatpacking industry is facing the difficulties posed by the containment measures on meat storage in refrigerated environments.

Fishermen Hope for Change as the Seafood Industry Faces a Crisis

In May, because of the coronavirus pandemic, fishermen could sell a reduced portion of all the fish harvested during the month, and at a lower price, compared with the previous year. For example, fishermen in Maine (a renowned fishing destination in the United States) sold half of the total harvest, whose value was reduced by around 18%, compared to May 2019. As a result, the director of the Maine Cost Fisherman's Association is calling for new business plans for fisherman that focus on building resilience against future economic shocks.

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Why 1 million pigs could be euthanized due to COVID-19-related supply chain issues

Following yesterday's news about hogs piling up in the meat processing plants due to the interruptions of the food supply chains caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Business Insider offers a detailed explanation of the apparently inexplicable meat shortage the US recently experienced. In essence, animals in slaughterhouses are stored in refrigerated environments with recirculating air, which offer COVID the perfect conditions to spread easily among the workers. In fact, it is estimated that around 25,000 meatpacking workers were infected with the coronavirus in the US.

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IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES

The market for beef and pork is a composite reality, made up of different markets, including retail and live cattle, among others. The meatpackers are the ones that benefited from price increases during lockdown, but some argue that part of their recent economic success is not entirely legitimate. On the other hand, ranchers and farmers have been greatly suffering from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which highlights the gap between the farmers' and the meatpackers' profits.

US senators to investigate meatpackers over Covid-19 conduct

Consequent upon what was reported in yesterday's news digest about two US Senators opening an investigation into four major American meatpackers, Reuters analysed data from the United States Department of Agriculture, and came to the conclusion that, since mid-March, 40% less hogs have been slaughtered, while at the same time the exports of American pork to China have quadrupled. A spokesperson for one of the meatpackers replied to the Senators' allegations by specifying that much of the exported pork products consists in snouts, feet, ears and organ meats, which have a limited use in the US.

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The Pandemic Exposed Deep Problems in the Meat Industry

The supply chain disruptions during the coronavirus lockdown impacted on the availability of meat in the supermarkets, resulting in price increases. However, although it may seem counterintuitive, ranchers and farmers did not respond enthusiastically to such price fluctuation, as while retail prices were rising, livestock's plummeted. Therefore, the ones actually benefiting from meat price increases are meatpackers, and this determines a price gap existing between farm and retail.

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COUNTRIES' RESPONSE

Since climate change has a direct impact on the work of farmers and ranchers, they represent key actors in finding solutions to climate change phenomena. This is the concept behind the Growing Climate Solutions Act, introduced in June 2020 by a bipartisan group of US Senators. Its objective is to direct the US Department of Agriculture to create a set of initiatives aimed at providing technical assistance and access to markets to small landowners and agricultural enterprises, so that they can be active participants in the reduction of GHG emissions and in the preservation of carbon sinks. Additional financial support to farmers and ranchers was provided by the US Government through the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Stability Act.

US NFU advocates for carbon markets

A bill that was introduced earlier this month in the US, the Growing Climate Solutions Act, has the aim of tackling both the recent challenges faced by the American agriculture industry, characterised by uncertain export markets and lower commodity prices, and climate change phenomena such as rising temperatures and more frequent and impactful extreme weather events. While they implement GHG emissions reduction practices, the Growing Climate Solutions Act would ensure both the financial and the environmental sustainability of the farmers' work.

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Helping rural America feed all of America

The reduction in commodity prices is not the only challenge farmers and ranchers are facing nowadays: they also have to take farm labor shortages and a complicated trade environment into account. To find a solution to such issues, the US Congress introduced the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery and Economic Stability Act, which foresees a total funding that amounts to USD 9.5 billion for agriculture producers, while, as previously mentioned, the US Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Food Assistance Program will grant USD 16 billion to dairy, meat and row crops producers.

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Establish national vegetable authority to transform sector

The president of the Vegetables Producers and Exporters Association of Ghana recently called for the creation of a National Vegetable Authority. This body would enable the vegetable sector of the country to face the difficulties posed by the coronavirus pandemic, by improving education, research and innovation, and by strengthening and modernizing the existing commodity value chains.

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REGIONAL FOCUS

An interesting effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the American food industry is that food manufacturers are prioritizing local food systems over the globalized supply chains, as a reaction to the large-scale disruption determined by the pandemic. In West Africa, attempts at strengthening resilience in the agricultural sector include enhancing information sharing among the actors of the food value chain, and improving the living conditions of the agricultural workers (most notably women producing shea butter).

AMERICA - Switching From Global to Local Food Supply Chains

According to a recent survey, 65% of the food manufacturers in the United States, and 85% of those in Canada prefer buying locally produced goods, especially vegetables, poultry, meat and fruit. Such interest in the local food system increased during the coronavirus pandemic, and is benefiting some of the local producers.

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AFRICA - Systems Approach To Vegetable Value Chain Policy, Pandemic Response And AfCFTA Agreement

The Agency for Health and Food Security, which is committed to the development of sustainable agricultural systems in Africa, recently acknowledged that the vegetable sector in the continent is severely hampered by fragmented value chain linkages and a weak coordination among all its actors, now more than ever, and by underdeveloped storage, processing and market systems, resulting in reduced yields. Therefore, it established a set of resolutions, together with many vegetable value chain-associated entities, with the aim of promoting a solid vegetable value chain policy.

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AFRICA - Seeing the silver lining in shea - Kora's story

The shea industry produces a big share of the rural communities' income in West Africa. Shea butter is edible, and it is also used in the production of cosmetics, like lotions or moisturizers. Over the last 20 years, it has become one of the top three export crops in Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo. Since the production of the shea butter in West Africa is mainly carried out by women, the Antisua Shea Cooperative was created in 2013 to offer them a safety net during life events like deaths, births or weddings.

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Contacts: FAO Datalab (ESS-datalab@fao.org)