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


NEWS DIGEST 26/6/2020

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

Consumer Supermarket
©FAO/Karen Minasyan

FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS

The concerted action of the increased demand of food products and a stalled production, determined by the coronavirus pandemic on the food supply chain, determined a general increase in prices and a plethora of side-effects, including shoppers in a panic trying to stockpile food products. A multifaceted crisis of the food supply chain (involving all actors, from cattle breeders to meat producers, to retailers and consumers) requires a multidisciplinary approach, capable of re-establishing the disrupted balance of supply and demand.

Is the Food Supply Strong Enough to Weather COVID-19?

One of the most distinctive memories we will keep of the lockdown measures imposed by governments around the world to contain the spread of the coronavirus consists in consumers crowding the supermarkets to stock up food items. Such phenomenon prompted questions about the ability of the food supply chain to bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, as food prices increase because of the cumulative impact of an increased demand and a stalled production.

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As the COVID-19 Pandemic Caused Disruption to the Meat Supply Chain, More Consumers Turn to Plant-Based Meats

The meat supply chain has been one of the most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. As mentioned before, the refrigerated environments that ensure that meat is stored in the right conditions to reduce the deterioration process also allow COVID to spread easily among the workers; this determined a staff reduction, the closure of many manufacturers, and, eventually, meat shortages and a price increase. An interesting side effect of this situation is that consumers may be more attracted to plant-based meat (generally made from extracted plant protein), which now competes on price.

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Namibia: Troubled Sheep Industry Overhaul Coming

Namibia's sheep industry was already lagging behind before the coronavirus pandemic, because of a disastrous drought in 2019. A panel of experts agreed last week on a set of recommendations to uplift the industry, that includes granting incentives and additional support to farmers, increasing production by using underutilised land, and looking for opportunities to enhance the production of bush-based animal feed.  

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IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES

China Phase One Agreement is the ambitious trade deal reached by the US and China in January 2020, which includes China's commitment to make additional purchases of US goods and services in 2020 and 2021, and also establishes a dispute resolution system. More specifically, the Agriculture and Seafood Related Provisions provide that China will purchase a total of at least USD 80 billion over the next to years in agricultural and seafood products. However, the coronavirus pandemic and China's recent request for guarantees that the US meat and poultry exports are not contaminated may constitute serious constraints for the future of the trade agreement.

Senators want answers on meat exports vs. domestic shortages

Since mid-March, the exports of American pork to China have quadrupled. More recently, China asked US exporters to sign an official document that guarantees that their food products are not contaminated with the coronavirus, thus officially linking the virus outbreaks to food or food packaging, even though the experts have not officially recognised such connection. The guarantees apply to pork, soybeans, grain, fruit and hay, among Others.

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Global ag trade feels COVID-19 impact

As part of China Phase One Agreement with the US, the former committed to purchase USD 36.5 billion in American agricultural products in 2020, and USD 43.5 billion in 2021. The current containment measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus may constitute a powerful brake for China to meet the abovementioned target for 2020, as the total imports of agricultural products during the first quarter amount to around USD 5 billion.

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Volumes have been lower, but exports have continued steadily for Ecuador's bananas

Ecuador, which is one of the world's top banana producers and exporters (bananas represent 10% of the country's exports), has recently seen the price of the fruit increase while its demand dropped (most of the buyers are hotels and restaurants). However, despite the additional costs required to make up for the difficulties imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, banana exporters have never stopped working, and actually increased the workers' wages in order to have them come to work every day.

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COUNTRIES' RESPONSE

The coronavirus pandemic is projected to cause a food security crisis that will involve around 200 million more people. Because of its widespread presence in over 80 countries, the World Food Programme is in a position to guide a concerted effort to tackle such emergency, involving governments, international and local organizations. At the same time, thanks to the African Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold-Chain, based in Rwanda, it will be possible to drastically reduce the share of wasted vaccines, when the one against COVID-19 will be ready to be distributed across the countries.

Responding to the development emergency caused by COVID-19: WFP's medium-term programme framework

The global coronavirus pandemic is likely to affect low and middle-income countries in a way that could trigger a historic food security crisis involving more than 200 million people, in addition to the 800 million people that were suffering from food insecurity before the pandemic. Given the prospects, the World Food Programme is calling for a multisectoral response encompassing governments, local organizations and other actors in order to create and implement efficient humanitarian interventions.

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Why optimized cold-chains could save a billion COVID vaccines

The World Health Organization estimates that half of all vaccines are wasted every year, because of a lack of cutting-edge and tailored logistics. This could have disastrous repercussions when a COVID-19 vaccine will be available, and that's where Rwanda Cooling Initiative by the Rwandan Government and the UN Environment Programme comes on the scene. The initiative aims at improving a cold-chain infrastructure system that could be capable to both tackle food loss and support the mass distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in the future.

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REGIONAL FOCUS

Three fascinating side-effects of the coronavirus pandemic in Africa and Latin America: the African Development Bank's claim about the modernisation of the African agricultural sector has gained prominence, as an improved crop protection and drought management system would increase production and generate employment;  the East African national trade facilitation committees were supported by UNCTAD and TradeMark East Africa, which offered online training to improve their skills; in Colombia, the lockdown measures pushed consumers to buy food products directly from the farmers, thus increasing their revenues while reducing the number of intermediaries.

AFRICA - Tech is Essential in Developing a Flourishing Agriculture Sector in Africa

The African Development Bank has recently highlighted the importance of modernising agriculture in Africa, whose population is projected to double by 2050, as the continent is still spending around USD 35 billion annually in food imports. For example, crop protection and drought management would vastly increase the yields and create employment. An example for such modernisation process is offered by India, which was a food importer until the early 70s and managed to revolutionize its agricultural sector trough significant reforms.

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AFRICA - COVID-19 accelerates greater trade coordination in East Africa

The East African Community, which launched its common market for goods, labour and capital within the region in 2010, sees its goal of creating a single market hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, as health controls and the containment measures caused a significant slowdown in transport services. However, this situation also served as an occasion for East Africa's national trade facilitation committees to improve their skills by engaging in online trainings organized by the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

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AMERICA - El futuro que se construye con cada bocado

The coronavirus lockdown in Colombia exposed the possibility for consumers to directly contribute to secure the livelihoods of the country's farmers by purchasing food products without intermediation. Such tendency could also provide an encouragement for the farmers to protect the environment, both directly and indirectly, since buying products directly from them would reduce the amount of plastic used for packaging and GHG emissions caused by transportation.

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