Here comes a deadly pandemic, the likes of which the world hasn’t seen before. Taking away lives and livelihoods in its sweep, it is still spreading like wildfire around the globe. From India to the US, China to Europe, there is hardly a country that hasn’t faced the brunt and it has taken a toll on businesses in every sector. The food and agriculture industries are no different.
The global food and agriculture system has been exposed to major challenges during these sweeping times. The global food supply chain has been holding up for now, but there’s likely to be drastic changes in the long term. During the financial crisis of 2008, the world’s poorest households spent the largest share of income on food. Many of them became homeless despite collective efforts from the state and central governments along with the NGOs. The COVID-19 episode in history seems to be even more complex, and have forced consumers to make tough food and lifestyle choices. There have been trading disruptions in the food and agriculture supply chain. From farm to fork, strict lockdown and social distancing measures have been imposed. In many developing economies, restriction of travel of migrant workers has forced uncertainties in the agriculture sector. Only time will tell what the disruptions in the long term will be. More demand than supply could push up prices, and recovery could take more than a year.
Eventually, the situation would ease but it’s too early to say how soon. The risk of a food crisis has made the economies more vulnerable. But FAO says that there is no need for the world to panic. Globally, there is enough food for everyone. But, after this situation ends in the coming months and years, there will be a need to put in place new systems and procedures to adapt to a new normal. The shortage of agricultural products such as fertilizers would, in turn, affect the production. Additionally, “panic-buying” is creating concerns for the industry. The prices have seen an upsurge for various staple foods. Less food production of high-value commodities (such as fruits) will lead to disruption in the value chain if a vaccine for COVID is not into effect by this year’s end.
The labour-intensive industries of meat and fish, dairy products, etc have been hard-hit in developing and developed countries alike. These informal labourers are also hard hit by job and income losses. The complete seed production ecosystem is co-dependent on other sectors such as transport, labs, fertilizer industry, and more. The agriculture halt could push up the poverty rate as well. Hence, agricultural income is at stake in the global markets and not just in the developing, agriculture-intensive countries.
Chronic hunger has affected more than 820 million people across the globe. Fourteen percent of these are coping with acute hunger, which essentially poses a threat to their lives and livelihoods. Any further disruption will only leave them more vulnerable with nowhere to go even after the pandemic ends. “COVID-19 could almost double the number of people suffering acute hunger globally, pushing it to more than a quarter of a billion by the end of 2020”, says World Food Programme’s latest tweet.
In order to combat this situation, the governments and the governing bodies of the respective countries have issued advisories and are working to minimize effects on food and food security during and post-COVID-19.
COVID-19 will certainly impact the future of the food industry. “We need a steady supply of wheat to mills and flour to bakeries in order to make this work, so the continuing availability of key staff, including millers, engineers and drivers, flexibility on the hours they can work and delivery times, and the continued availability of fuel and electricity are the most immediate priorities,” National Association of British and Irish Millers (NABIM) said recently. To explain it further, NABIM mentioned that food and agriculture will face a major fallout.
There are already shortages of Personal Protective Equipment and other protective equipment, which are essential to keep the workers, farmers, and animals healthy. The industries should ensure the safety of their workers by procuring protective equipment and educating their workers on best practices including social distancing to protect the health of animals and people once the quarantine measures ease. The safety precautions are not for lockdown days but for months and years after the lockdown has ended, until the time when a tried and tested vaccine becomes available.
Amid the global crisis, when the priority is saving lives, we must, as responsible citizens, understand the short and long-term severity of the impact of novel coronavirus on the agriculture industry. Ensuring food security while safeguarding the interest of agricultural workers and farmers is of utmost importance. The impact is already apparent by slowing the global economy but things could change for better or worse in the coming years – only time will tell. If the industry is disrupted, the silver lining would emerge too in the form of new beginnings and better advancements in demand. Let’s be hopeful and contribute positively to our local, state, and national government to minimize disruptions and bounce back stronger in a post-COVID world.
Today, at SourceTrace we’re happy to share our moment of pride and fulfillment, having made it as the cover story in the Food and Beverage Tech Review.
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