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


NEWS DIGEST 19/7/2020

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

Women returning to the village after collecting water from a community water point in Diabidiala village, Nioro du Sahel Circle, Kayes Region, Mali
©FAO/Sonia Nguyen

FOOD CHAIN DISRUPTIONS

The lockdown measures imposed by most of the governments around the world had a serious impact on the farmers' ability to trade their agricultural products, and the citizens' possibility to afford nutritious food, and therefore a balanced diet. The Sahel region in northern Africa was already one of the most food insecure in the world, because of political unrest, climate change and jihadist violence (especially in Mali and Burkina Faso); with the pandemic, the situation worsened and now around 5 million people in the region need emergency food aid. In India, on the other hand, the fact that many markets closed and most of the migrant farmworkers were forced to leave the big cities influenced the price of the food products, and the possibility for many people to afford them.

The pandemic could actually strengthen the U.S. food system

The coronavirus pandemic impacted heavily on the US agricultural supply chain, mainly because thousands of farms in the country base their activities on supplying schools, offices, restaurants and food service industries, which closed during the earliest phase of the pandemic. These farms had to make drastic changes to their business models, and some of these adjustments turned out to be particularly successful for them: for example, diversifying the production and the methods of sale (selling directly to customers online, instead of selling wholesale to restaurants) made a family business in Virginia grow more in three months than it projected in five years.

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Au Sahel, le 'virus de la faim' menace des millions de personnes

Over the last ten years, the Sahel has been confronted with a serious food crisis, caused by jihadist violence in Mali and Burkina Faso, the acceleration of global warming (which is 1.5 times quicker in the Sahel than the world's average), political insecurity, and now the coronavirus pandemic. The Sahel states closed the markets and their borders in order to stop the spread of the virus, making it difficult for farmers to obtain seeds or sell their produce in the markets, ultimately contributing to increase food insecurity in the Sahel.

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COVID-19 exacerbates malnutrition in India, study finds

The lockdown measures imposed by India's government to stop the spread of the coronavirus (markets closed, migrant farmworkers were forced to return to their native villages, many consumers engaged in panic buying) caused an increase in food prices, thus limiting the possibility for many people to purchase specific products and therefore to afford a nutritionally diverse diet. Furthermore, the lockdown limited the effectiveness of specific government programs that ensured access to healthy food (schools providing nutritious meals to the students, for example).

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IMPACT ON COMMODITIES AND FOOD PRICES

Cereal and banana exporters are facing difficulties respectively in the European Union and in Ecuador. The former saw its exports curtailed by 63%, compared to last year, mainly because of low water levels, but prices are stable (contrary to Russian wheat exports'); the latter are struggling with an increase in export costs caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which is making it difficult for small growers to sell their products on the international market.

'The pandemic increased production costs for our banana producers'

Ecuador is one of the largest banana exporters in the world; however, there are many small-scale producers in the country (which gathered in an organization that protects their interests, whose name is Fincas de El Oro) that are finding it difficult to reach the global market during the pandemic. Due to Covid-19, export costs have increased (mainly because of the greater use of the personal protective equipment), and now it is more difficult for small growers to face the competition on the market.

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The Covid-19 meat shortages taught us all an important lesson

As previously highlighted, the coronavirus pandemic exposed the US meat industry's vulnerabilities: during the pandemic, the consumers found meat aisles empty and price increases in the supermarkets, and restaurant owners were confronted with the same supply shortage. The first cause of this was the closure of many meat processing plants, and therefore the measures that protect workers in such plants must be reinforced. Furthermore, the meat processing capacity in the country should be less centralized, so that local businesses could have more opportunities to thrive.

Lower grain harvest forecast; stable wheat prices

The wheat harvest has already begun in most of the southern European countries, but the amounts of grain that are going to be sold on the market are not projected to be huge, and prices will be stable thanks to the fact that the old harvest has been cleaned up: cereal exports from the EU will be 63% less compared to the same period last year. On the other hand, the prices for Russian wheat have increased due to a low harvest forecast: in fact, the country has exported around 70% less than last year in early July, but exports are estimated to increase in the autumn.

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COUNTRIES' RESPONSE

Supporting the activities of the food banks and pantries in the US has been an effective measure to counter some of the food chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the country. They assist food insecure people in obtaining food products despite the recent shortages and price increases, while tackling food losses and waste at the same time. The governor of the New York State recently stated that 10 regional food banks and local farms will receive financial support in order to keep their activities going. In Ghana, the Minister of Food and Agriculture has announced two additional developments of the Ghana Commercial Agricultural Project, financed by the World Bank.

$1.5 million for 'Feeding New York State' to assist food insecure New Yorkers and state's farmers

In order to support the state's efforts to prevent food waste and to help people that were particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the governor of New York announced USD 1.5 million in funding (made available through the state's Environmental Protection Fund) for Feeding Yew York State, a non-profit organization that assists the state's food banks in obtaining more food. This funding will support 10 regional food banks, but also many local farms that will provide various food products to food insecure people.

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Ghana ministry hands over reefer vans to vegetable traders

Ghana's Ministry of Food and Agriculture has recently provided four vegetable dealers with one refrigerated vehicles for each of them, under the Ghana Commercial Agricultural Project, in order to improve the sustainable supply of vegetable produce by stabilizing vegetable prices and facilitating the access to markets. On this occasion, the Minister also commissioned the new Ghana Irrigation Development Authority head office complex in Accra and announced that the government estimates earning amounting to USD 16.1 million from seven tree crops within eight years.

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Capacitaran a mano de obra local para la cosecha de cereza 2020

The Minister of Agriculture of the Chubut province, in southern Argentina, has recently headed a meeting with ministry and municipal officials, and various representatives of cherry producers, with the objective of agreeing on a common methodology to provide the farmworkers with the necessary equipment to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the next cherry picking season. Cherry production in the Chubut provinc employs around 2000 people (in the harvest, packaging and logistics phases), most of them coming from the north of the country.

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REGIONAL FOCUS

Three emerging issues in Eastern Africa, Europe and Latin America: despite an agreement on how Ethiopia should fill and operate the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has not been reached with Egypt and Sudan, Ethiopia will soon start filling the dam, resulting in a potential escalation of hostilities (triggered by the fact that both Egypt and Sudan will be heavily influenced by the inauguration of the infrastructure); in case a vaccine against the coronavirus was developed in Europe, it would not have the capacity to effectively distribute it; in Latin America, were hunger is mainly caused by poverty, the poverty rate will get to 37.2% because of the pandemic.

AFRICA - Nile dam crisis risks boiling over

The Nile water dispute between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, which is going on almost unnoticed because of the coronavirus pandemic, is moving towards a boiling point, with possible dramatic consequences for the region. Ethiopia is about to start filling the reservoir of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam without waiting for an agreement on its operation with Egypt and Sudan, after ten years of negotiations: this could lead to an outbreak of hostilities between the countries, because Egypt relies on the Nile for more than 90% of its water needs, while Sudan fears that some portions of its territory will be flooded.

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EUROPE - Europe's challenge of a lifetime: Manufacturing enough coronavirus vaccines

Normally, it takes up to ten years to bring a new vaccine to market, and only one in 10 drugs that enter clinical trials actually gets distributed; furthermore, once developed a vaccine, there will be the need to distribute billions of doses and to ensure that all who need them will get one (which requires proper storage conditions): this is why the current production facilities in Europe are not sufficient to meet all the needs. One possible solution would be to create a network of manufacturing sites around the world.

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AMERICA - Hambre y pobreza se incrementan en America Latina por la COVID-19

In Latin America, hunger is caused by poverty, rather than by a lack of food: the poverty rate could increase from 30.3% to 37.2% because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the consequences will be particularly impactful in Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Some of the recommendations to the international community by FAO and WFP include minimizing the interruptions of the food supply chain, supporting governments in strengthening their social protection systems, and enhancing data collection and monitoring.

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