Labour shortage could impact global food industry: FAO

The on-going corona crisis could have a cascading effect on the economy. Since food is the most important item for us, it is natural that we wonder about the future food scenario. How is the pandemic affecting food systems, food security, and agricultural livelihoods? What role if any do animals play in transmitting the disease?  Bizbews4u picked up the FAQs and answers listed by the FAO.

For instance, we you ask ‘What are the implications of the COVID-19 situation – now and in the future – for food production, agricultural and fishery/aquaculture supply chains and markets?’

FAO response is: The food supply chain is a complex web that involves producers, consumers, agricultural and fishery inputs, processing and storage, transportation and marketing, etc.

As the virus spreads and cases mount, and measures tighten to curb the spread of the virus, there are countless ways the food systems at all levels will be tested and strained in the coming weeks and months.

As of now, disruptions are minimal, as food supply has been adequate, and markets have been stable so far. Global cereal stocks are at comfortable levels and the outlook for wheat and other major staple crops for 2020 is positive.

Although less food production of high value commodities (i.e. fruits and vegetables) is already likely, they are not as yet noticeable because of the lockdowns and disruption in the value chain

In the fisheries and aquaculture sector, the implications can vary and be quite complex. For wild-capture fisheries, the inability of fishing vessels to operate (due to limited or collapse of market as well as sanitary measures difficult to abide to on board of a vessel) can generate a domino effect throughout the value chains in terms of supply of products, in general, and the availability of specific species. In addition, for wild-capture fisheries and aquaculture, problems in logistics associated with restriction in transportation, border closures, and the reduced demand in restaurants and hotels can generate significant market changes – affecting prices.

We are already seeing, however, challenges in terms of the logistics involving the movement of food (not being able to move food from point A to point B), and the pandemic’s impact on livestock sector due to reduced access to animal feed and slaughterhouses’ diminished capacity (due to logistical constraints and labour shortages) similar to what happened in China.

As a result of the above as of April and May we expect to see disruptions in the food supply chains.

Blockages to transport routes are particularly obstructive for fresh food supply chains and may also result in increased levels of food loss and waste. Fresh fish and aquatic products, which are highly perishable and therefore need to be sold, processed or stored in a relatively limited time are at particular risk.

Transport restrictions and quarantine measures are likely to impede farmers’ and fishers’ access to markets, curbing their productive capacities and hindering them from selling their produce.

Shortages of labour could disrupt production and processing of food, notably for labour-intensive industries (e.g. crops or fishing).

Spikes in prices are not expected in major staples where there is supply, stocks, and production is capital intensive,  but are more likely for high value commodities, especially meat and fish in the very short term and perishable commodities. On the other hand, where production is available and demand collapses like in some fisheries, prices are expected to collapse too.

Developing countries are particularly at risk as COVID-19 can lead to a reduction in labour force, and affect incomes and livelihoods as well as labour intensive forms of production (agriculture, fisheries/aquaculture). Of particular concern is sub-Saharan Africa where most of the countries experiencing food crises are.

The need to upgrade international standards for hygiene, working conditions and living facilities on agricultural activities and on-board fishing vessels, as well as throughout the fish value chain, need to be reconsidered in the light of the pandemic.

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