Coronavirus and Global Food Industry

By: Syeda Maham Dabeer, Mishaal Khalid, Umm-e-Farwa, Ayesha Shammas, Hamail Adnan, Sara Hassan

The non-profit International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reported that even if farmers can continue working, they may have limited places to sell their goods. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, higher-value goods are also more likely to experience a price-hike imposed by COVID-19 havoc than some major staple crops. In Pakistan, experts believe that the phenomenon will have cascading effects on the region’s food security. Apart from wheat, heaps of plucked fruit and vegetables like mangoes, strawberries, onions and potatoes are lying in the fields in different states, shattering the hopes of farmers to get bumper profits this year. According to a report of The New York Times one chicken processor in the USA had to smash 750,000 unhatched eggs every single week. An onion farmer also had to let most of his harvest decompose, being unable to re-distribute and store them. In Asian countries, tea planters are worried to the core regarding spoilage of their valuables. Fresh milk being a perishable commodity, can’t be used above a certain limit of time even if refrigerated. With the complete closure of coffee shops in some countries, and no such retail sale for many other dairy products due to global shutdown, oversupply of milk has appeared as a real challenge. Severe economic repercussions are faced by the farmers who are getting dwindled value for their produce or have to dump their surplus milk. On average, some 500 farmers have been asked to dump 5 million liters of milk per week, as maintained by a trade report. In Pakistan, by the estimate of one industry, around 1,00,000 people deliver milk to millions of houses in the country. Amid this outbreak, the Punjab Food Authority has discarded at least 5000 liters of adulterated milk in March only. In America, due to disrupted supply routes, farmers are forced to dump 3.7 million gallons of milk per day Food items that have a “best-before” date of just weeks are sitting idle and completely unused. As certain food sectors across the globe have been closed for an uncertain period of time and could be closed much longer for the foreseeable future, commodities still present in the warehouses like bread, croissants, pastries, fruit, vegetables, sauces, etc. will go to the dumpsters after going stale due to lack of transport to the stores or even if transported somehow, the community may lack interest to buy those because of uncertainty. Unused barrels of beers and liquor-containing food items in the pub basements would also be undrinkable by the time the lockdowns are lifted. A downfall of retail sales coincides with the closure of the catering industry also, which brings forth a pile of the unsold produce. Moreover, fresh produce is spoiling in the fields due to a labor-force shortage in the sector of agriculture. Globally, people stuck at home are turning more to home-baking, not relying to buy the retail bakery items. Purchase of flour and organic food has surged drastically as people are wanting to eat more healthy and immunity-boosting food during the pandemic. As a result of panic buying and hoarding by a large sector of the community, food shortage has arisen. Online shopping trend has also lessened as people fear that the diseased person may unknowingly be a part of the supply chain, carrying the ordered item to their doorstep. Malls have strict restrictions for the number of people entering, making queues. Also, disinfection of surfaces at shops is being practiced. Bringing in the use of digital currency for shopping purposes is also under discussion at several platforms. This pandemic has threatened the global supply chain which broke due to trade restrictions. Workers involved in agriculture and food manufacturing are now immobile because of crackdowns. Due to shortage of laborers, more crops have been left unharvested and, eventually, made to rot in fields. In the developed world, staple crops like soybean, corn and wheat are somewhat less affected because their harvests are largely mechanized but in the developing countries, situation may lead to menace if lockdowns don’t get lifted soon. Perishable foods like fresh fruit and vegetables depend on people (manpower) to harvest, process and pack them. Hence, supply chain breakage is affecting those as well. Suitable policies may enable the labor-force do their jobs along with being protected from the virus too.