COVID-19 and Food Security

The outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan and the subsequent spread to over 180 countries has had a devastating impact on the lives of billions of people.

New phrases like “social distancing” have become commonplace and people are embarking on a new way of life. Everything we have taken for granted seems a distant memory and a realization of what is important has dawned on us.

Many countries and cities are or have been in total lockdown. Businesses, schools, universities and non- essential activities are closed. Only critically important industries are operating. The scope of the economic and social impacts of the pandemic is still unclear, but one thing is certain: it will be severe.

How will this pandemic influence food production, distribution and supply?

There are several factors that we can consider when we try to understand the influence of this pandemic on food security. The following points can be made:

  • Currently, agriculture is experiencing severe supply chain backups and interruptions. China is a major supplier of ready-made crop protection products, active ingredients and fertilizers. The distribution of these products has been severely impacted by supply chain interruption and this will influence global agriculture production.
  • The closure of schools and restaurants has impacted the demand for certain products. The dairy industry has taken one of the hardest hits. Bloomberg reported US dairy farmers dumping milk as demand declines.  Similarly, The BBC gave reports of backed-up supply and distribution chains that have forced UK and Canadian dairy farmers to do the same in order to prevent an oversupply and protect prices for long term survival.
  • The demand for restaurant niche products like mini vegetables and garnishes have all but collapsed.
  • Small- and large-scale farmers are struggling economically and might go out of business. Several financial aids packages have been supplied by governments to mitigate this situation.
  • Unemployment and lower economic activity will impact demand as well as produce choice in the long run.
  • Travel restrictions have put a strain on seasonal labour supply for harvesting in developed countries like the UK, Germany and the US.
  • Airline closures and limited cargo flights are impairing the access of exporters to markets which has resulted in an availability drop of certain produce.
  • Conversely, one of the industries who have seen a boost in demand in response to the virus is Spanish Citrus farmers. They have reported a spike in demand for their fruit due to the high vitamin C content.

Future trends

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of the business supply chain and global dependence on a single supply market. This is true for both agriculture supply needs as well as for food in general.

Firstly, a movement away from global supply chains to more self-sustainable production might be on the cards for countries, cities, communities and even households.

This will likely create a shortened supply chain, and a greater awareness regarding the farm to table concept. Consumers will start to support local businesses. The concept of ‘producing and buying locally’ will grow. With this, however, we may observe an increase in prices for foodstuffs.

We can expect that consumers will start to focus on healthier eating, and this will impact on the demand for certain produce. This means that restaurants and take-away establishments will face an uphill battle as consumers become acutely aware of food preparation, hygiene and nutrition.

Furthermore, packaging and display options will change. We have already seen the end of open fridges in retail food stores.

However, the export of foods will still play a role during the off season and outside certain production areas.

Lastly, technology and automation will play a bigger role in developed agriculture sectors in order to meet rising local demands.

Possible opportunities

With this in mind, we can pinpoint some opportunities for business, and therefore economic growth. The following opportunities might be worth exploring as we move into post-pandemic agriculture:

  • Local food production and packaging
  • Organic food production
  • Self-sustainable home production
  • Production in sub-optimal conditions. We see this is hydroponic production in arid regions and avocado production in New Zealand.
  • The use of technology to solve problems, and
  • Developing niche products for specific markets.

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