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Today's important COVID-19 news in the fresh produce sector

UN warns that measures against virus could cause global food shortages

As the world keeps on dealing with the COVID-19 situation, the UN has come out with a warning that the measures taken against the virus could cause global food shortage. More locally, in the US, apple retail sales get a boost and British officials ask their  citizens to help pick fruit and vegetables.

In Africa, South African exporters are financial hardships due to the chaotic global trade while Rwanda reports that agricultural activities continue during the lockdown. In the small nation of Bhutan, the Agriculture ministry puts import restrictions on produce while in Mumbai, the onion auctions are suspended at Lasalgaon. This, and much more, in today’s Coronavirus update.

UN warns: COVID-19 measures could cause global food shortage
Protectionist measures by national governments during the coronavirus crisis could provoke food shortages around the world, the UN’s food body has warned. Harvests have been good and the outlook for staple crops is promising, but a shortage of field workers brought on by the virus crisis and a move towards protectionism – tariffs and export bans – mean problems could quickly appear in the coming weeks, Maximo Torero, chief economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, stated.

“The worst that can happen is that governments restrict the flow of food,” he said. “All measures against free trade will be counterproductive. Now is not the time for restrictions or putting in place trade barriers. Now is the time to protect the flow of food around the world.”

Click here to read the full article.

 

US apple retail sales get a boost
The coronavirus scare has boosted retail sales of Washington apples 40%, but it also may keep growers from getting all the H-2A-visa foreign guest workers they need.

“Retailers are up 40% on apples. With everyone staying home and online grocery orders off the charts, our shippers are double shifting and running weekends. Bag demand is crazy,” said Brian Focht, manager of the Washington Apple Growers Marketing Association in Wenatchee.

“If this continues, it could save the season for growers,” said Desmond O’Rourke, world apple analyst and retired Washington State University agricultural economist.


The downside of the virus is that while Mexican workers who worked in the U.S. on H-2A, foreign agricultural, visas in the last 12 months are being allowed to return to the U.S., first-time H-2A workers are not. That’s a concern for Washington tree fruit growers, who filled 26,226 jobs with H-2A workers last year.

Demand is high for apples in transparent, film bags, because they are viewed as more sanitary than apples in bulk, Focht said, adding it will be interesting to see if demand for film bags continues after the crisis.

 

Britain asks citizens to help pick fruit and vegetables
On Wednesday, UK officials called on the nation’s citizens to help pick fruit and vegetables to ensure a supply of food during the global coronavirus crisis - work that would usually be largely carried out by migrant seasonal workers.

Britain’s agricultural sector is heavily dependent on seasonal workers, but the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the flow of migrants into the country. “We need to mobilize the British workforce to fill that gap and make sure our excellent fruit and vegetables are on people’s plates over the summer months,” environment minister George Eustice said in a statement. “There are already brilliant recruitment efforts underway by industry and I would encourage as many people as possible to sign up.”

The supply of seasonal workers was already under pressure following Britain’s departure from the European Union.

 

Auburn food safety expert: 'US food supply is not at risk'
Dr. Bob Norton, chair of the Auburn University Food System Institute’s Food and Water Defense Working Group, says the US food supply is not at risk. He offers tips on how citizens can best prepare their personal food supply. Regarding U.S. and China relations, he expects many companies to move facilities out of China.

“The US food supply is safe and food corporations are universally adopting very stringent COVID-19 prevention strategies and procedures, designed to keep sick employees out of food processing, packaging and warehouse facilities. The transportation industry is adopting similarly rigorous standards to ensure drivers are healthy and know how to help prevent infection by the COVID-19 virus. The retail food industry is stepping up in this war against disease, adopting standards to protect customers and employees at the point of delivery. I am very confident that the food supply is not at risk.”

 

S-A exporters face financial squeeze due to chaotic global trade
As more countries go into lockdown across the world, exporters are being hit hard by the impacts of coronavirus on their businesses, with logistics systems in turmoil and cashflow being stretched.

More than 440,000 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19, resulting in countries enforcing lockdowns in efforts to control the spread of the virus, which originated in China’s Hubei province at the end of last year. Exporters in every corner of the globe are now facing major operational and financial headwinds as logistics networks across industries become chaotic.

A spokesperson from Capespan, a South African-based exporter and importer of fruit, told GTR that the company is looking at adapting its supply chain and risk responses to ensure that its customers can access fruit, as it turns its focus to transporting South African citrus fruit that has just come into season to northern hemisphere customers.

South Africa will lockdown at midnight on March 26, however the country’s ports will remain open for the import and export of essential goods, and agricultural operations will continue.

 

Ferry Group to maximise shipments across English Channel
P&O Ferries says it is strengthening its freight operations on the Calais-Dover crossing as part of its commitment to maintain the flow of goods during the Covid-19 crisis. With so many trailers using the short English Channel crossing the company says the United Kingdom relies on P&O Ferries for much of its fresh food, as well as imports of medicines and other vital supplies. The crossing is also critical to the economies of France, Ireland and the wider EU.

P&O Ferries says the shift to meet the challenge of the Covid-19 crisis is made possible thanks to the commitment and hard work of its workforce in the Port of Calais, who are taking on new roles in freight handling to keep food, medicines and other goods flowing. P&O Ferries is following the guidance of health authorities on both sides of the channel to protect the health and well-being of employees and customers.

 

Millions of Americans benefiting from Florida farm output
As images of hoarding are filling social media feeds, farmers in Florida are stoically continuing to grow food that will increasingly stay in demand as social distancing and sheltering-in-place measures become the new normal.

According to Adam Basford, Director of Legislative Affairs at the Florida Farm Bureau, food grown in Florida plays an important role in our domestic food supply infrastructure. “Florida is among the top food-producing states in America, and during this critical moment in our history, every crate of tomatoes, glass of orange juice or ear of sweet corn counts,” said Basford. “Consumers should have confidence in knowing Florida farmers are working diligently during this crisis to help bring more fresh food to market.”

In South Florida alone, farmers grow enough fresh produce to provide nearly 180 million Americans with food annually. The region has among the state’s most diverse group of row crops including sweet corn, radishes, rice, green beans, romaine lettuce and other leafy greens found in produce sections nationally.

 

Rules on US farmers markets could hit new growers hard
In Seattle, farmers markets have been suspended altogether. In New York state –the epicenter of the US‘s fight against the virus– they remain open, but residents are being warned against gathering in groups and told to practice social distancing.

Such uncertainty is likely to hurt so-called “beginning farmers”. Nearly 30% of US farms are run by farmers who have been in the business for fewer than 10 years. In comparison to the general farming population, beginning farmers are more likely to be women, people of color and military veterans. Beginning farmers form a vibrant and diverse part of the US farming community. However, they are also among the most economically vulnerable of farmers. Since they are just starting out, they are often still formulating business plans, balancing farm finances, creating new marketing opportunities and establishing their farms’ viability.

 

Rwanda: Agricultural activities continue during lockdown
The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources has issued instructions aimed at helping farmers get needed services amid the coronavirus lockdown.

“Essential services continue to be delivered so that food chain is not disrupted,” a statement signed by Gerardine Mukeshimana, Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources reads in part.

Those services include harvesting, transportation and trading of farm produce, agriculture extension services, and agro-processing, as well as the marketing of processed foods and beverages.

However, the statement underscored that people engaged in such activities should respect the recommended hygiene by effectively washing their hands regularly with water and soap, and keep at least one-metre distance between a person and another so as to prevent the probable spread of COVID-19.

Speaking to The New Times, Jean Damascène Gasarabwe, Director-General of Kitabi Tea Company – a subsidiary of Rwanda Mountain Tea Company – said that they have started implementing the ministerial instructions as they keep tea farming and processing running. Gasarabwe said that the company put in place tippy taps locally known as kandagira ukarabe – hands-free tool for handwashing, in a bid to ensure hygiene both in tea harvesting and processing as well as protect workers and consumers.

 

Bhutan: Agriculture ministry puts import restrictions on produce
Since the agriculture minister Yeshey Penjor announced a temporary ban on imported fruits, vegetables and areca nuts and betel leaf on March 24 in Covid-19’s wake, people have gathered at the vegetable market to panic-buy. “Import of vegetables is forced to stop due to no disinfection option.”

He justified that a ban was imposed since the health ministry advised the agriculture ministry to disinfect goods coming into the country, but it was not possible for fruits, vegetables and meat. The ban is applicable to betel leaf and areca nuts.

The local vegetable and fruit production might not be sufficient, one trafer said, adding that the local produce is expensive. A few days ago, she imported more than 2,000 kilograms of vegetables. She also supplies vegetables to hotels that have turned into quarantine centres across the capital.

To increase local food production, the agriculture ministry announced that the government is committed and prepared to support all venturing into food farming such as low-interest rates, marketing, technical guidance, and procurement of implements.

 

Coronavirus in Mumbai: Onion auction suspended at Lasalgaon
The onion traders from Lasalgaon, which is largest onion producing and selling hub, on Wednesday decided to suspend the onion auction for an unlimited period. This is expected to send onion prices soaring in the state and other parts of the country.

However, for onion growers, it will be bad news as they may have to sell onions at below the market price or dump them on roads, if the auction remains suspended for a longer period because of the nationwide lockdown. At Lasalgaon in Nashik district, on an average, 12,000 to 15,000 100 kg-bags of onion are auctioned.

 

Philippines: DA to open 66 Kadiwa stores nationwide
The Department of Agriculture (DA) is set to open 66 Kadiwa stores nationwide to give local government units (LGUs) and in¬dividual consumers direct access to agriculture products from the province during the coronavirus-triggered lockdown.

Kadiwa stores are a marketing strategy of the DA that directly connects food producers to consumers, thereby lessening the cost of the products by eliminating the middlemen.

Agribusiness Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista said the agency is now finalizing the details of its arrangement with LGUs in the National Capital Region (NCR), especially those who earlier committed to the project such as Quezon City, Pasig, Manila, Pasay, and Taguig.

The DA is also closely coordinating with its regional field offices through their Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division for possible food suppliers.

 

American labor supply at risk
While US citizens took to the privacy of their homes this week to avoid spreading the coronavirus, the opposite scene was playing out in the Mexican city of Monterrey. A thousand or more young men arrived in the city, as they do most weeks of the year, standing in long lines at the US Consulate to pick up special H-2A visas for temporary agricultural workers, then gathering in a big park to board buses bound for farms in the United States.

About 250,000 workers came to the US on H-2A visas last year, the majority of them from Mexico. They’ve become an increasingly important piece of America’s food industry.

One end of the food supply chain has been completely upended as restaurants go dark and consumers prowl half-empty aisles of supermarkets. Food producers, though, are operating almost as normal, at least for now. Food distributors and wholesalers in the middle of that supply chain, meanwhile, are trying to perform logistical miracles, re-directing truckloads of food from shuttered businesses toward places where people now crave it; mainly grocery stores.

 

Malaysian traders welcome move to reduce number of visitors
Fruit and vegetable traders of Malaysia lauded the government’s efforts in looking out for traders’ safety by controlling the number of visitors to the Kuala Lumpur wholesale market in Batu Caves, Selangor. This is despite having to cope with reduced manpower in each stall in light of the movement control order (MCO).

Kuala Lumpur Vegetable Wholesalers Association president Wong Keng Fatt said each vegetable stall needed at least four people to load, unload and sort out the vegetables but traders would have to cope with a skeleton crew handling the responsibilities.

“We are definitely short-handed but since this is for everyone’s safety, we will comply. One stall is only allowed two foreign workers. The market used to operate 24 hours daily but is now restricted from 10am to 7pm, and midnight to 7am daily, ” he said.

 

UAE supermarkets have ample supplies from India
UAE supermarkets have assured residents of sufficient supplies from India, a day after that country announced a 21-day lockdown over the COVID-19 outbreak, even as the first batch of four cargo flights, chartered by the Lulu Group, began to arrive with fresh produce on Tuesday night.

V. Nandakumar, chief communications officer at Lulu Group, told Al Khaleej Today on Wednesday, “We have chartered four cargo flights from India to bring in fruits, vegetables and perishables to ensure that our shelves and warehouses are well-stocked in the UAE and the market remains stable in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Our goal is to ensure sustained product availability.”

Al Maya supermarket chain, Kamal Vachani, Group Director, said: “Supplies from India are fine as of now. The Essential Commodities Act in India provides for the free movement of rice, wheat, sugar and other essential commodities. We are in touch with our suppliers to see how things will pan out during the lockdown. We are making all efforts to ensure that we have enough supplies for the coming days.”

 

Troubles in India: trucks stranded & huge labour shortage
On day one of lockdown, supply of fruits and vegetables took a hit, despite the government having marked it out as an "essential service? Wholesale suppliers from Gaffar Khan Market Association, New Delhi, to Koyambedu Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers Merchant Association, Chennai, say there are multiple logistics

The biggest issue is the closure of state entry points and tolls across India. Some 1.2 crore trucks are said to be stranded across India — in garages, inside cities, and about 30 lakh on highways. Some 50 lakh drivers, cleaners and helpers are getting no food or water as dhabas remain closed for miles along highways, even as essentials rot inside the trucks, said the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) and All India Truck Welfare Association (AITWA)..

There's also a labour shortage, with some 450,000-500,000 young workers in the unorganised sectors having left for their hometowns under family fears of coronavirus.

 

UAE shoppers notice hike in fruit and veg prices
Prices of fresh fruit and vegetables have noticeably gone up in recent days due to the increase in price at source and limited movement of fresh produce, Gulf News has learnt.

A store manager at a convenience store in Al Barsha stated that prices of fruit and vegetables have increased due to high prices and limited transportation of fresh produce from source.

“For instance, we have seen delays in the delivery of vegetables from India because of the lockdown in some states due to coronavirus (COVID-19). This has caused prices to definitely go up. If prices from source go up, we have no choice but to also hike the retail price,” the store manager explained..

 

Indian state governments start home deliveries
Bringing relief to the consumers, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh administration have started home delivery and designated spots to sell fruits, vegetables, grocery items and dairy products from Wednesday.

In a first of its kind initiative state governments in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab; Haryana & Chandigarh start home delivery of milk fruits/ vegetables and groceries during lockdown. This is aimed at avoiding panic among consumers for essential food items, said officials.

Some 12,000 vendors have been approved in Uttar Pradesh to home deliver essential commodities, said Devesh Chaturvedi, principal secretary, agriculture, Uttar Pradesh. He said the numbers will increase in the coming days.

 

Malaysia: Cameron Highlands farmers dump vegetables
Restrictions on traffic and market operating hours have adversely affected the supply chain for vegetables and raw food. Due to the various problems and regulations imposed by Malaysian authorities, many vegetable sellers and vegetable delivery truck drivers said they would rather stop their service to avoid problems.

Whilst the Movement Control Order (MCO) is intended to safeguard everyone’s well-being by introducing restricted movement, there are a few groups of people who are going through some difficult times under this government authorised order.

Even though public markets are allowed to operate during the MCO, farmers are at a conflicted standpoint due to difficulties such as delivery trucks being caught up in the rigorous regulations imposed by authorities.

However, Malaysiakini reports that due to the various problems and regulations imposed by authorities, many vegetable sellers and vegetable delivery truck drivers said they would rather stop their service to avoid problems. This has led Cameron Highlands farmers to dump hundreds of tonnes of vegetables, resulting in a huge amount of food wastage.


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