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

Corona-Update: “We’re continuing to monitor the situation closely and adopting a precautious approach"

As the COVID-19 situation continues to escalate, Zespri's Europe-bound kiwifruit crop is expected to leave at the end of this week. The demand for longan (and the prices) are plummeting in Cambodia. In India, the general cargo business in the state of Maharashtra is impacted by 20 to 30 per cent. Meanwhile, the the British Ports Association has said that keeping the UK’s global gateways open for trade should be a priority. In Turkey, fruit and veg prices have dropped, but the markets remain empty. These subjects, and many more, are covered in this article.

Ever changing situation due to coronavirus

Blair Hamill, Chief Global Supply Officer, says while there were ongoing challenges associated with COVID-19, all ports in Japan, Korea and Europe were functioning well and had labour available.  

“We’re continuing to monitor the situation closely and adopting a precautious approach, with our contingency planning taking account of the rapidly changing environment,” says Mr Hamill.

“We’re seeing positive signs in China in terms of the improving consumer metrics, and we expect our charter reefer vessels to run as planned.”

Zespri chief grower Dave Courtney said the first ship bound for Europe was expected to leave at the end of this week. The situation surrounding Covid-19 was changing every day but he was confident the kiwifruit industry could cope.

Nzherald.co.nzquoted him as saying: "I think what we're going to see across the world in our markets actually is strong demand for the product. It's a healthy product and people are wanting to eat healthy for obvious reasons. The challenge is going to be them getting to us or us getting to them.”

"We're also hearing the authorities here talk about the critical importance of food flowing across borders, particularly perishable foods, so clearly we're in that category - because people have to eat at the end of the day."

However, a more immediate challenge facing Zespri was overcoming a labour shortage which has resulted from Government-imposed restrictions due to coronavirus.

Longan demand and price plummeting in Cambodia
In Cambodia’s Battambang province, the price of longan grown there has dropped sharply due to the Covid-19 outbreak, according to industry insiders. Battambang provincial Department of Commerce director Kim Huort told The Post on Tuesday that shipments of Cambodian agricultural goods to China via Thailand have been severly affected. Battambang longan, he said, has been hit particularly hard. “Due to the virus outbreak, the price of longan has dropped as demand among consumers in Thailand decreases,” he said.

Battambang province has 4,279ha dedicated to farming longan, with an average yield of 14 tonnes per hectare. Last year, farmers harvested 54, 866 tonnes, Huort said. Cambodian longan is mostly exported to China and Thailand or consumed locally.

Cargo business in Maharashtra impacted by 20 to 30 percent
According to the officials at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) at Uran, 20 per cent of the important and export business through sea and air has been affected. Bhushan Patil, trustee of JNPT, said that they have been taking all precautions to prevent the coronavirus at JNPT. The cargo vessels at JNPT port primarily arrive from China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Italy and Iran.

"These countries are also battling against the COVID-19, therefore, the naturally the vessel from these countries are down in numbers. We have been taking utmost precautions and care," Patil said.

Mumbai Port MD Sanjay Bhatia said that the cargo business has been virtually closed down at Mumbai port. "Most of the business has been shifted to JNPT. Only oil vessels are coming at our port however this business has not been much impacted because of coronavirus. But the cruise business has been impacted. We had started the cruise services Mumbai to Goa and other parts of the country. In wake of coronavirus, all booking is cancelled," Bhatia told newindianexpress.com.

Coronavirus Emergency Bill: Keeping trading gateways open should be a priority
Responding to the publication of the Government’s policy paper on its new Emergency Bill the British Ports Association has said that keeping the UK’s global gateways open for trade should be a priority.

Commenting Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive, British Ports Association said: ”UK ports facilitate 95% of our trade and will be instrumental ensuring the country is fed and resourced in the coming weeks.

Half of the UK’s food is imported and it will be critical to keep our ports open so that shops, public services, and businesses are supplied with what the country needs. The industry is generally very supportive of the Government’s measures to bring the pandemic under control and is working hard to keep goods moving. Also we would expect that proposed new powers to potentially close individual ports will only be used in the most extreme circumstances.

These are unprecedented times and we are working closely with the UK Government and devolved administrations. Our ports are currently open and facilitating imports of food, supplies and resources. It will be important that Government staff at the frontline look to support this effort as best they can.

We have been speaking with our counterparts in Italy where the ports have remained open and we are learning from their experiences to keep our gateways operational.”

South Koreans coming to the rescue of country’s potato farmers
South Korea’s cool and mountainous may Gangwon province, is known for its firm, large potatoes that are used to produce delicacies such as dumplings and pancakes. Demand for Gangwon’s famed potatoes, however, came crashing down this year with the coronavirus outbreak, as restaurants and school canteens around the country closed down, sapping demand for the crop.

According to an agricultural official in the provincial government who didn’t want to be named, some 11,000 tons of potatoes from last year’s harvest are in storage and risk rotting away if they don’t reach consumers before April. Farmers say prices have fallen to a level that allows them to make only razor-thin margins.

Provincial governor Choi Moon-soon spurred to action and put out a call on Twitter on March 11 for people to support Gangwon’s potato farmers. In partnership with the local farmers’ guild, the government launched a heavily discounted campaign online (link in Korean) for Gangwon potatoes, offering 10 kilograms (22 lbs) of potatoes for just 5,000 won ($4), with shipping costs covered by the province. The price is less than a third of retail prices at grocery stores.

Demand for fresh produce may fall in Poland due to the coronavirus The spread of COVID-19 has caused many disturbances in the supply chain of goods. So far, the most affected have been the Chinese and Italian markets, due to the restrictions associated with the control of coronavirus; however, the situation is dynamic and are more and more countries are dealing with a growing problem. This applies to, among others Spain, which is the largest producer and exporter of fresh fruit and vegetables in the EU, says Mariusz Dziwulski, an expert on agricultural markets at the PKO BP bank, in an interview with the website www.sadyogrody.pl.

"At the moment, due to the multitude of possible scenarios, it is difficult to clearly assess the possible scale of coronovirus impact on the fruit and vegetable sector. The key aspect will be the time that the world will need to cope with the pandemic," he said.

According to the expert, logistics problems in Italy and concerns about the quality of products from this country, causing some recipients to demand additional security certificates from Italian suppliers, may result in some of the demand switching to fruit grown in Poland. However, the effect of that rise in the demand may be negligible in the case of a scenario of dynamic development of COVID-19 in our country. In the EU, Italy is the third largest exporter of fresh fruit and vegetables (after Spain and the Netherlands), and it is also the second largest exporter of apples (after Poland).

"China's share in EU trade of fresh fruit and vegetables with third countries is low. Some possible consequences of this situation (generally positive for producers in the EU) may be a reduction of Chinese apple exports to Russia and the Far East markets, as well as a reduction of the Chinese apple concentrate supply to the US market. However, it is still important in this context to tackle the negative effects of coronavirus in China (significantly reducing the number of new COVID-19 cases and resuming deliveries)," he says.

Mariusz Dziwulski stresses that one should take into account that due to COVID-19, the domestic demand for fruit and vegetables will probably decrease. "The decline will be a result of a number of factors: deterioration of consumer mood, worse income situation of many households, temporary closing of school facilities (fruit at school), and reduction of sales at marketplaces or the limited activities in the food service. The introduction of temporary border controls may additionally cause some difficulties in foreign trade (even though the transport of goods is to take place without restrictions)," he says.

"The dynamic increase in purchases mainly concerns products with a long shelf life, including frozen vegetables, and to a lesser extent fresh fruit and vegetables. Disturbances in the supply chains could take a particularly negative toll on products with short shelf lives, such as tomatoes and cucumbers," says the expert of the PKO BP bank.

So far, the spread of COVID-19 has had little impact on the fruit and vegetable market in terms of prices.

In the meantime, supermarkets in Poland have been enforcing new rules to ensure the safety of both employees and consumers and prevent the further spread of the virus, with customers asked to queue in front of the stores, keep a minimum distance with others and make cashless payments. Stores are also disinfecting table tops and basket holders and employees are working with protective gloves and have access to antibacterial gels. Furthermore, their body temperatures can be monitored at all times.

Coronavirus reduces Kerala’s vegetable exports to half
Exports of vegetables and fruits to the Gulf countries via three Kerala airports fell 50% from the impact of COVID-19. Because of this, the price of bananas went down to Rs 10 (€0.13) per kilo from Rs 45 (€0.57) in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, much to the delight of buyers of the two states.

Farmers in South Tamil Nadu and in Kerala, through Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode airports, export about Rs 20 mln worth vegetables per day to Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia is the biggest importer. Banana and pineapple account for as much as 70% of the green exports from Kerala.

“There is no import ban to fruits and vegetables from India so far, due to Covid-19, except in Kuwait, but the fluctuations in logistics have affected the export volumes,” said Dil Koshi, secretary, APPEXA (Agricultural Products and Processed Food Exporters Association) told The Financial Express. It is the shift of Gulf flights from wide-bodied aircraft to narrow-bodied aircraft, due to low passenger load factor, that has hit the air cargo carrying capacity, thus trimming vegetable exports from 200 tonne to 100 tonne per day.

Mango trade Maharashtra likely to be hit as exports stall
Mango growers in the state seem unfazed by coronavirus though exports to foreign countries have been stalled. About 40% of the fruit produced in Konkan region is usually exported to the USA, Gulf and European countries.

Farmers as well as exporters said that since there will be a dip in the production of mangoes this season, they will not face any problem even if mangoes are not exported, adding that the produce will be more than sufficient to cater to the domestic need.

Anand Desai, a mango grower and exporter from Ratnagiri, told timesofindia.indiatimes.com: “The outbreak of coronavirus will surely impact the mango export business as air service to all major exporting countries has been stalled. Mango is exported to European countries, Japan, Australia and USA through airways and Gulf by the sea. Usually the export of mangoes starts after April 15, but the contractors start visiting our sites to sign contracts in March every year. However, this year, rarely any contractor has visited our place to sign contracts for exporting mangoes. If this situation persists, it will affect the export business.”

“However, the mango production is expected to dip by 50% this year due to climatic changes and unfavourable environment. So, the rates of mangoes will remain high in the domestic market despite the reduction in the export,” he said.

Turkey: Fruit and veg prices have dropped, markets still empty
A large amount of quality vegetables and fruits returned from the Iraq, Iran and Syria customs gates, which were closed due to the Corona virus epidemic, were offered for sale in Adana Vedat Dalokay Fresh Vegetable and Fruit Market.

After the closure of customs gates with Iran, Iraq and Syria due to the coronavirus, the prices of vegetables and fruits dropped. Although the products returned from the customs gates are offered to the domestic market with discounts approaching 90 percent, the markets in Adana remained empty due to the Corona virus.

From vegetables and fruits that are cheaper than 90 percent, the cabbage has found 30 cents, red cabbage 25 cents, tangerine 1 lira, onion 1 lira, potato 1.30 lira, bunch tomato 2.5 lira, apple 1.20 lira, orange 1 lira. Affordable prices in the form of vegetables and fruits were also reflected in the neighborhood markets, but Denizli, Yeşilyurt, Şakirpaşa, Dumlupınar, Sepici, Yenidogan, Dadaloğlu, Yeşilbağlar, Atakent, Adana Koop, Topel, Fatih, Yeşiloba, Gürselpaşa and Çifte Minare District Markets, which were quite active in the previous weeks.

Vietnamese officials promote cross-border exports
The COVID-19 epidemic has badly affected economic and trade cooperation activities between Vietnam and other countries, including cross-border import-export activities between several Vietnamese northern border provinces and China’s Guangxi and Yunnan.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, China had previously suspended customs clearance of goods at its border gates to prevent spread of the disease, resulting in congestion of goods in Vietnam - China border gates. Although China then allowed clearance to resume, the congestion continued. According to Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT), there were 905 freight trucks waiting for export at the border gates in Lang Son Province on March 14. Specifically, Huu Nghi Border Gate had 116 vehicles carrying agricultural products and electronic components while Tan Thanh Border Gate had 686 trucks of agricultural products and fruits still waiting for export procedures.

In order to remove difficulties for export activities, the Ministry asked the Import and Export Department and relevant agencies to coordinate frequently and effectively with the Ministry of Finance to ensure the clearance and timely removal of obstacles in export and import activities, while cooperating and supporting the border provinces.

Albania sees soaring fruit prices
Fruit prices have climbed in Albania, especially for lemons and oranges, highly sought after as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Consumers visiting the market, some with masks and gloves to avoid coronavirus infections admit the prices have soared they as they mainly look for orange, lemon, ginger, kiwi etc. The price of a kilo of lemons went from ALL 80 to ALL 200 and 250. Retailers claim that they are selling lemons at this price warning that they could be even higher. Oranges, on the other hand, which were sold at a price of ALL 60-70 or 80 per kilogram are now being sold with ALL 120 per kilo and some sellers rose its price up to ALL 200.

The situation is directly related to what is happening with coronavirus crisis in the country as there has been a crazy demand of fruits containing Vitamin C. When traders are asked why they increased prices, everyone shrugs, explaining that it is something that has happened on the entire supply chain. The importers claim that they received less quantity than planned, with a higher price than before. Albania, despite its production of orange or lemon, fails to meet the whole demand and imports a part from countries such as Italy or Turkey.

[ ALL100 = €0,81 ]

A guide for US producers to navigate the COVID-19 outbreak
COVID-19’s arrival in Indiana has created unprecedented disruption to local production cycles that bring food, flowers and more to our restaurants, farmers markets and communities.

Now is the time to determine the best methods to find and connect with your customers during a time of confusion and challenge. People can play their own important role in improving this connectivity along the supply chain and ensuring continued access to fresh produce and products in our local economies, and it is imperative to establish and implement plans before any additional drastic measure occurs that could affect your bottom line.

That is why www.purdue.edu has published an extensive guide, addressing topics such as:  Changing your business model, meeting the needs of the market, reaching your customer base without increasing potential exposure to COVID-19 and continuing to generate income during this difficult period.

COVID travel restrictions complicate farm shipments California
Border closings by some countries and travel restrictions meant to curb spread of the novel coronavirus have created less belly capacity on passenger airplanes to carry highly perishable cargo, a concern for California agricultural exporters as the season for export crops such as cherries approaches.

Though vegetables are the more common California farm export going by air this time of year, Chris Connell, president of Los Angeles-based Commodity Forwarders, said agricultural exporters will soon move into the peak season for air cargo as berries and cherries are lifted to key export markets in Asia.

"If I was an agricultural shipper right now, of course I'd be very concerned," said Brandon Fried, executive director of the Airforwarders Association in Washington, D.C. Transporting cargo to China and Korea via air has already been made more difficult since February, due to reduced flights as efforts to contain the virus ramped up, Connell added.

Agalert.com reports that now, with flight reductions expanded for Italy and the rest of Europe, as well as for Australia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, Connell said perishable cargo such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, meats and dairy products will increasingly compete for space on aircraft with other commodities and express shipments.

Cost to fly perishables, particularly to Europe, could rise 25% to 30%, Connell estimated. Fried said he has heard freight rates could increase "upwards of three times what they normally are."

New Zealand apple industry immune to virus so far
It's business as usual for the apple industry, says Pipfruit New Zealand chief executive Alan Pollard. "We know our apples have already started to arrive in our overseas markets and there is no indication of a reduction in demand. They are certainly moving through the retail outlets into consumers' homes. The season has actually started pretty well for us, notwithstanding some of the problems around China access. What we are seeing are volumes pretty similar to last year and prices are pretty similar to last year as well.

Rockit Global chief executive Austin Mortimer told nzherald.co.nz that the strongest demand for its apple variety came from the country that, so far, is the hardest-hit by coronavirus.

"There is a base level of appreciation for fruit in China that's not like anything we see here in New Zealand," he said. "With the advent of the coronavirus, people are endeavouring to eat far more healthily than they have in the past. If there is a risk to our business it is probably around logistics and cool-chain. It is not necessarily consumer demand."

Los Angeles: restaurants are selling produce ...and toilet paper
Supplies of basic staples like beans, pasta, and chicken have become hard to find in some major grocery stores but, as Mayor Garcetti reminded his citizens yesterday, there is plenty of food in the supply chain and no need to panic. One option to consider for assembling your stay-at-home stash: several local restaurants are offering new or expanded retail market sections, selling fresh produce, prepared items and even toilet paper.

“The farms and purveyors we buy from are not the same people supplying the chain grocery stores,” reads an Instagram post from Tesse in West Hollywood. “With the shut-down of all dine-in restaurants for the next couple weeks, it is important that we as a community find a way to keep the economic cycle flowing, and ensure that these businesses will still be up and running when we come out on the other side of this and are looking to return to the comforts of modern city life.”

Tesse has converted the wine shop connected to the restaurant into a full-service grocery, packing shelves with paper goods, milk, tofu, fresh pasta, vacuum-sealed meats, and bins of farm-fresh fruits and vegetables.

Russian airline industry in distress: bankruptcies may follw Russian Federal Aviation Agency President Aleksandr Neradko made evaluations about the developments in the Russian aviation sector due to the coronavirus outbreak, during a meeting with Rosaviatsiya officials in the capital Moscow.

Pointing out that there are significant losses in the revenues of the airline companies in Russia due to the coronavirus epidemic, Neredko said,Due to discontinued international flights and the depreciation of the rubles, the risks of bankruptcy arise in the sector, especially airline companies.” he told cryptodictation.com.

Stating that various estimates about financial losses in the sector are made, Neredko said, “These estimates need to be confirmed, but losses can exceed 100 billion rubles ($1.35 billion).”

Spokesman of the Kremlin, Dmitriy Peskov, said in a statement today that work is underway to help airline companies suffering losses from the virus outbreak.Russia restricted flights to many destinations, including China, some European Union countries, Iran and Uzbekistan.

How is the packaging industry affected?
Packaging Gateway examines some of the key issues facing the industry as a result of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, including the effects caused by self-isolation rules, companies moving sourcing away from China, and reconsidering materials used in packaging.

The Covid-19 or coronavirus pandemic has had a considerable impact on the packaging industry. Self-isolation rules have resulted in short supply and event cancellations, and supply chains are looking to move sourcing away from China following manufacturing and production disruptions. Packaging Gateway examines some of the key issues facing the industry.

Stocks have been in danger of running short: One of the main concerns in the industry comes from workers having to self-isolate, especially in China where many packaging companies rely on manufacturing facilities. This month, Australian supermarket heads warned that packaging supplies were in danger of being hard to obtain due to factory closures in China.

PA Consulting manufacturing and supply chain expert Tim Lawrence told Packaging Gateway: “The first shock in the supply chain will be caused by the scarcity of supply. Companies should immediately review their inventory levels and policies – and ask suppliers to do the same.”

Canceled flights impact vegetables and fruits too
Indian exports of fruits and vegetables have come down by 50 to 60 per cent as flights in most countries have been canceled. Fruits and vegetables spoil quickly, so they are sent by air.

APMC Market, the country's largest center for export of perishable food, ie vegetable and fruit, is a silent shadow these days in Maharashtra State Agricultural Marketing Center for small exporters. Every day, where goods from 9 to 10 exporters were packed, today only one or two packing is being done here. Where there was packing of fruits and vegetables around 25 tons daily, which has been reduced to around 5 tons.

Rajesh Gupta of Fresh Export, a firm that exports vegetables and fruits by air in the Middle East, says the demand for turmeric has increased due to the corona but most of the flights have stopped exports. Farmers have to bear the brunt of this. There are avenues to protect people from Corona, but it is difficult to save the market.

Enter new markets, Ugandan businesses are urged
Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde said this is the time for the private sector to also consider value addition to locally available raw materials, such as animal skins and fruits, to substitute imports from Europe and China.

As countries shut borders to cut the spread of the coronavirus, the private sector has been urged to consider exploiting new export markets and new product lines within Africa and to negotiate contracts with their suppliers, especially those based in hard-hit overseas countries.

Ms Kyambadde told newvision.co.ug this is the time for the private sector to also consider value addition to locally available raw materials, such as animal skins and fruits, to substitute imports from Europe and China.

She urged the private sector to utilise the abundant fruits and skins and hides to make juices and leather products, such as bags, belts, and shoes. She hopes that as the world locks down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Uganda could use her competitive advantage in agro production to supply food to affected countries and open new trade lines in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

Germany’s asparagus harvest is ‘in grave danger’
All across the country, white asparagus heads are starting to poke through the soil. But far from rejoicing, farmers are starting to worry about major crop losses.  As well as causing the widespread shutdown of day-care centres and schools, shops, bars and gyms, the coronavirus crisis is also slowing or even preventing the arrival of hundreds of seasonal workers, who usually travel to Germany at this time of year to help with the harvest.

Travel restrictions mean that many are being delayed at the border, which was partially closed on Monday, or simply did not set off in the first place. In Brandenburg, where 2.300 workers were expected, only 20 percent have so far arrived.

While some of the workers are scared to travel to Germany, which is now considered one of the centres of the European outbreak, others simply cannot find transportation. In countries like Romania, bus drivers are unwilling to take them, as they would be forced to go into quarantine on their return.

The chairman of the asparagus association, Jürgen Jakobs, told iamexpat.de that he is receiving new cancellations every hour. Overall, farmers are expecting about a third of their workforce to be absent this year. “It’s getting very, very extreme,” said Rolf Meinhardt, the chairman of the Spargel Südhessen working group. “The asparagus harvest is in grave danger.”

The problem that Germany’s asparagus farmers are currently facing is the start of an even greater one in the future. If the seasonal workers can’t come, it’s not just the asparagus that will rot in the ground - there won’t be any strawberries, vegetables or salad leaves, either.

To solve this problem, Germany is mulling measures for seasonal workers from Eastern Europe to avoid labour shortages in the asparagus harvest and other agriculture sectors following travel restrictions due to the coronavirus, the agriculture minister said.

Germany has temporarily introduced border controls on its frontiers with Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark in a bid to curb the spread of the infection.

US stores see hand sanitizer purchase up 470%, apples down 3%
By now, you've seen the empty grocery store aisles and cleaned-out shelves that normally hold hand sanitizer and toilet paper. But people are also stocking up on a lot more oat milk and alternative meats, according to Nielsen data.

Some of the data is unsurprising — sales for aerosol disinfectants are up 385.3% and rubbing alcohol is up 253.8% — while some reflect the changing landscape of grocery shopping. Oat milk sales are up 347.3% and fresh meat alternatives are up 206.4%. Interestingly, some fruits and vegetables saw decreases in sales. Celery purchases were down 18.7% and apples were down 3.2%.

US dollar surges as companies scramble for liquidity
The US dollar surged on Tuesday as companies and investors sought out the most liquid currency as concerns about economic shutdowns from the coronavirus continued to dent risk appetite.

The Federal Reserve on Sunday slashed rates to zero and launched a new bond purchase program. Other central banks have taken similar measures but the moves have so far failed to stem liquidity strains and market panic. Central banks have also cut pricing on their swap lines to make it easier to provide dollars to financial institutions around the world. But funding markets show continued stress in sourcing the currency.

The dollar had initially fallen in early March as US government bond yields tumbled, but the dollar has since rebounded, and measured against a basket of major currencies is now up around 5% since March 9.

France locks down as global virus panic spreads
A strict lockdown requiring most people in France to remain at home came into effect at midday Tuesday, prohibiting all but essential outings in a bid to curb the coronavirus spread. The government has said tens of thousands of police will patrol streets and issuing fines of 38 to 135 euros ($42-$150) for people without a written declaration to justify their reasons for being out.

President Emmanuel Macron announced the measure Monday night in an address that was viewed by 35 million people, which was an absolute record for a televised intervention.

The country has reported 148 deaths from the virus, a number that health experts warn could soar in the coming days, seriously straining the hospital system.

Macron said that under the new regime, gatherings among friends and family would no longer be allowed, only "necessary movements" like shopping, medical visits or working when tele-commuting was not possible. But Health Minister Olivier Veran said Tuesday that self-confinement rules could be eased in two weeks if the spread of the new coronavirus is sufficiently contained. "If in two weeks we see that things have calmed down enough and we can lift some of these confinement rules, we'll do it.”

Still, at while the flower market in the Paris halls of Rungis are closed, the fruit and vegetable trade continues..

Belgium declares lockdown until April 5th
Belgium declared a lockdown for the entire country over the coronavirus crisis from noon on Wednesday (18 March) until 5 April, following the example of several European countries, including neighbouring France, which took the same decision earlier this week.

According to the announced "far-reaching measures", there will be no total lockdown, but public life will be severely curtailed, including through a ban on gatherings.

The decision taken by Belgium's National Security Council (CNS) on Tuesday comes only hours after the new emergency government of Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes was sworn in by the country's sovereign, King Philippe.

Speaking at the press conference after the meeting, Wilmes announced the lockdown is set to start on Wednesday (17 March) and run until 5 April. Wilmes could not confirm that this is the final scenario but said the situation will be re-assessed when this period ends and next steps decided. The Belgian population is urged to stay at home. People will be allowed to go out in an emergency or to a supermarket, pharmacies and doctors. Any gatherings and meetings are prohibited.

Travel bans limits Australian industry's reliance on backpackers
Travel restrictions due to coronavirus could lead to labour shortages for agricultural industries that rely on overseas workers during key periods like sowing or fruit-picking. Griffith and District Citrus Growers' Association secretary Vito Mancini said the busiest period for orange growers was in around two months when the Navel harvest was underway.

"Signs are that our big markets, China and Japan, are still keen to do trade, but it's now up to us to make sure we can get oranges off the trees and into their shopping baskets," Mr Mancini told therural.com.au.

"The current round of backpackers are still in the country and they're still looking for their 88-days (of agricultural work to satisfy visa requirements)," Mancini said. "I daresay we might get through this season on the skin of our teeth, but if it's a prolonged issue I think we'll start seeing the backpackers dry up from around September, October."

He said a more immediate issue would be travel restrictions on seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands. "There's a lot of rules involved with hiring seasonal workers, you have to contract them for at least three months, so smaller operations like myself, we rely more on backpackers because we can't guarantee that work, but the corporates can. They'll then probably come into our pool and get in more backpackers, which might put pressure on us. But it's all an unknown at the moment, we're all trying to guess and put the right strategies into place."

Global harvests at risk with travel limits squeezing labor
Across the globe, governments are imposing travel limits in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus. The unintended consequence is a squeeze on migrant labor that’s a cornerstone of food production.

Expectations for a labor crunch reveal how interconnected the world of global agriculture has become, and expose the strains of production and areas of vulnerability to the supply chain. In many key food-making nations, the industry relies heavily on migrant and immigrant workers to fill jobs that middle-class citizens shun. Think of the back-breaking work of tomato pickers, the dangerous conditions at slaughter houses and what many would consider the unpalatable environment of large livestock-feed operations.

AFPA: Visa extensions urgently needed to guarantee supply of fresh fruit and vegetables
The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) is made up of Australia’s key fresh produce growers and suppliers. It represents half the industry turnover of the Australian fresh produce sector - $4.5 billion of the $9.1 billion total; 1,000 plus growers through commercial arrangements and more than 15,000 direct employees through peak harvest, and up to 25,000 in the grower network.

In an 18 March 2020 Media Release, it has made clear that visa extensions are urgently needed for workers so farmers can guarantee supply of fresh fruit and vegetables

Fresh produce growers from around the country are calling on the federal government to immediately extend the visas of seasonal workers and backpackers working in the fresh produce sector, in order to ensure the coronavirus (Covid-19) does not jeopardise the ability of farmers to supply fresh fruit and vegetables for all Australians.

AFPA member businesses and their third party grower network are specifically seeking the immediate extension of visa entitlements for more than 2,700 seasonal workers and 7,000 backpackers currently in the country.

“If we do not secure these extensions workers will need to return to their home countries and there will not be the required workers to harvest a large number of fruit and vegetable crops meaning Australians will not have access to healthy and nutritious fresh produce at this unprecedented time,” said Michael Rogers, AFPA CEO.

With more than 80,000 people employed in fresh produce, the current workforce includes significant numbers of Australians, seasonal workers from the Pacific and Timor-Leste, and backpackers from around the world.


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