COVID 19 AND FOOD SUPPLY CHAINS.
With Covid-19 taking roots in many parts across the world, governments have resolved to different means of curbing the unseen enemy; lockdowns, curfews and quarantine measures. With everything being brought to a halt, what's the pandemic's impact on our local food systems; since food is an essential need of life?
The biggest dilemma is how governments can put in place strategies and robust safety nets to cushion their people. There has been evident observations of citizens worldwide increasingly relying on food banks and charity in a bid to manage cases of hunger and malnutrition. The long queues demonstrates the massive need for food among other essential commodities for their families.
The economy too is at a standstill as many industrial cities worldwide have been shut down in response to quarantine measures. This has put a halt to the source of livelihoods of millions and yet we have to figure out how to cope and protect everyone from contracting the virus. Majority of the population in developing countries live under the dollar and rely on a hand to mouth basis; earn and spend with zero room for updating their savings accounts. Most of these people have no option other than get out of their homes and try to fend for themselves despite work from home directives with their biggest fear being lockdown starvation from the dusk to dawn curfew.
The imminent challenge is how to ensure seamless flow of food produce- which has already been interrupted- without prices skyrocketing.
The effects are already being felt by players in the agribusiness value chain; from production to logistics and through to final consumer. Seed supply in some parts has been adversely affected. "If seed movement isn't normalized in the next six months, over 123 million people in the COMESA region risk facing starvation" says John Mukuka, a seed expert with the COMESA. Labour has been greatly affected as restrictions have hindered movements to the farms. Machinery too cannot also be hired around by farmers as usual. The lack of storage facilities for their farm produce also leads to immense loss of fresh produce. Most farmers are recording a glut of perishable produce as prospective buyers are unable to get quality products in time as a result of inter travel bans The demand side of food has gradually exceeded supply and this has also put pressure on small holder farmers, agribusiness companies and manufacturing companies. Panic buying in lockdown situations and import- export disruptions has interrupted the food supply chain and led to prices hikes of staple food and fresh farm produce.
How do we effectively get food produce from the farms to the markets around a low risk, less chances of contraction environment; most of which are under total lockdown.
It is indeed time to rethink our local food systems and work from every angle to make it as fluid as we can so that it could stand situations like the one we have presently. This is a call to all stakeholders so that life can be still bearable during this pandemic and thereafter. Timely support to smallholder farmers, investing in innovative and affordable off grid cold chain solutions to be at their proximity, logistical support could cushion primary producers, processors, logistics and marketing for a start. We need to ensure existing food supplies continue to grow while enabling safe, affordable and quality fresh produce to reach people/consumers through eased supply chains and market linkage amid lock down policies.
Educating to grocery vendors on how to stay safe even while interacting with consumers is also a point of focus. We can't wait to get back to normal; life after COVID-19 but for now this is the new norm. Plusfarm Kenya acknowledges the efforts of farmers worldwide during this period to ensure that this crisis does not create a more dangerous crisis of food insecurity. Let's remember that it's the bravest and most flexible that will survive this crisis. Thank you food warriors.