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

Corona-update: OECD says global economy will suffer for years to come

Experts fear that in the near future, the Spanish soft fruit sector might become the next Coronavirus casualty, and the International Air Transport Association is appealing to governments for emergency government intervention. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has warned that the world will take years to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, while in Poland the greatest concern is visible in the flower sector, but fruit and vegetable producers are also suffering.

India shows labour troubles in Bengal and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry of Qatar set maximum permitted retail prices for fruits and vegetables. This, and much more, in our Coronavirus update.

Spanish soft fruit sector to become next Coronavirus casualty The strawberry sector has called on the Moroccan and Spanish governments to allow 9,000 seasonal workers to travel from Morocco to Spain. The growing COVID-19 pandemic has already caused a shock to the global economy, shutting down international travel and deeply impacting the tourism and transports sectors in particular.

As the red fruit harvest season approaches, Spanish farmers find themselves with no seasonal workers, meaning that the annual harvest could go to waste. The strawberry farmers of Huelva, southern Spain, have called on Morocco to allow 9,000 seasonal workers to cross the border for the harvest.

Over 60% of the workers arriving annually for the strawberry harvest in the southern Spanish region come from Morocco, meaning that the North African country’s decision to suspend air and maritime travel has cut off the majority of the sector’s workforce.

Urgent emergency support requested for airlines
International Air Transport Association (IATA) is appealing to governments in Europe, as part of a worldwide campaign, for emergency government intervention as they fight for survival due to the collapse in air travel as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is the top priority of governments. But they must be aware that the public health emergency has now become a catastrophe for economies and for aviation. The scale of the current industry crisis is much worse and far more widespread than 9/11, SARS or the Global Financial Crisis. Airlines are fighting for survival. European air traffic has suffered an unprecedented decline, with some markets down 90% compared to last year. Millions of jobs are at stake. Airlines need urgent government action if they are to emerge from this in a fit state to help the world recover, once COVID-19 is beaten,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Extensive cost cutting measures are being implemented by the region’s carriers to mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19. However, due to flight bans as well as international and regional travel restrictions, airlines’ revenues are plummeting—outstripping the scope of even the most drastic cost containment measures. On a global basis, IATA estimates that emergency aid of up to $200 billion is required.

OECD: Global economy will suffer for years to come
The world will take years to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has warned. Angel Gurría, OECD secretary general, said the economic shock was already bigger than the financial crisis. He told the BBC it was "wishful thinking" to believe that countries would bounce back quickly.

The OECD has called on governments to rip up spending rules to ensure speedy testing and treatment of the virus. Mr Gurría said a recent warning that a serious outbreak could halve global growth to 1.5% already looked too optimistic. While the number of job losses and company failures remains uncertain, Mr Gurría said countries would be dealing with the economic fallout "for years to come".

He said many of the world's biggest economies would fall into recession in the coming months - defined as two consecutive quarters of economic decline. "Even if you don't get a worldwide recession, you're going to get either no growth or negative growth in many of the economies of the world, including some of the larger ones, and therefore you're going to get not only low growth this year, but also it's going to take longer to pick up in the in the future," he added.

Oldest fruit and vegetable market trader in Belfast stays open
Belfast’s oldest fruit and vegetable market trader is keeping the business going despite the Covid-19 epidemic to make sure loyal customers get their five a day. Since Belfast City Council announced a temporary cessation of St George’s Market in a wave of public closures, market traders have been facing the prospect of an uncertain future.

John Breen, fourth generation owner of Murdock’s Fruit and Veg, is one of the lucky few able to continue selling to the public in the city. The family business owns the old stables yard in Verner Street next to St George’s Market, and can continue trading in an open air setting on a Friday.

Concerns of the Polish horti sector
Many events organized in Poland are canceled or postponed at this time. The greatest concern is visible in the flower sector, but fruit and vegetable producers are also suffering from the consequences of the pandemic.

It is visible on the Polish streets that many flower shops are closed. The Polish Florists' Association has already appealed to the Polish Prime Minister for support (asking for exemption in VAT and other taxes). Otherwise, several flower shops will go bankrupt in Poland.

Polish horticultural producers limit their orders for balcony  seedlings and rooted seedlings, due to unsold crops and lack of space for new plantings in their greenhouse or tunnel. It can be assumed with high probability that in April sales will be minimal, especially since the coronavirus outbreak may be at its peak in Poland.

The Polish Ministry of Agriculture doesn't recognize this part of the horticultural sector as important and doesn't plan any additional measures to help producers in their current situation - was the information from the press office of the Ministry.

India: Labour troubles hit Bengal potato storage
The coronavirus has cast a shadow over the process of stacking up of potatoes in cold storages as there is a sudden shortfall of over 35 per cent labourers involved in collection and storage of the crop. Regarding potatoes, farmers stack up the tuber in cold storages after harvest and release the crop in the market in phases to ensure that they get proper prices. Every year, the process of storage begins in the first week of March, but it was delayed by two weeks this time as the harvest started late because of the effect of Bulbul.

This year, the storage process started from March 10 and it would have taken at least three weeks to fill up 450-odd cold storages in the state with the produce.

“A lot of workers returned home since the coronavirus scare spread in rural areas. After Prime Minister declared a curfew on Thursday, the scale of exodus has been very high and at least 35 per cent labourers are missing. This will spell doom for the potato supply chain,” said Madhusudan Mandal, secretary of West Bengal Cold-Storage and Rice Mill Labourers and Contractors Welfare Association.

Several cold store owners told telegraphindia.com that each unit needs to hire around 150 to 250 workers for loading the packets of potatoes. The labourers for both south and north Bengal are from South 24-Parganas, East Midnapore and Murshidabad districts and neighbouring Bihar.

Qatar Ministry sets retail prices for fruits and vegetables
Various government departments have stepped up their efforts to control the spread of the novel coronavirus among Qatar residents and taken necessary measures to curb any attempts by retailers to exploit the expected increase in demand for different consumer and food items.

Accordingly, on Friday the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) set a maximum permitted retail prices for fruits and vegetables.

The decisions are applicable until March 31, and can be extended further if required. The MoCI affirmed that any violations of such decisions or failing to abide by the set maximum price for such items would entail the violators all the penalties stipulated by the related laws and regulations applicable in the country.

All retail outlets and other shops throughout the country will have to abide by prices indicated in the lists issued by the MoCI Friday. The MoCI had earlier pointed out that it will intensify inspections to exercise tighter control on the local market and ensure that consumers get all the necessary services and goods at the announced prices, and curb any attempts to exceed the permitted reasonable rates.

In case any retailer or shop is spotted attempting to violate these decisions, a violation report will be issued by the MoCI department concerned and all the necessary legal procedures taken accordingly in co-operation with the relevant entities.

State government of Goa doubles vegetable orders
Although essential commodities to be supplied to Goa from other states will continue despite the border control on vehicles, anticipating a three-day break in the coming week, Goa State Horticulture Corporation Limited (GSHCL) doubled its order for Saturday's supply  to ensure vegetable availability in the state.

Since the Belagavi market will be closed on Sunday owing to the nation-wide curfew, the vegetable supply scheduled for Monday morning is suspended. With Tuesday being the weekly market off in Belagavi, followed by Gudi Padwa holiday on Wednesday, the supply stays suspended for another two days. Hence, GSHCL ordered 200 tonne of vegetables to tackle the situation ahead of the four-day break.

The corporation orders around 100 tonnes of vegetables which lasts a few days at horticulture outlets. Now, the stores are witnessing panic-buying by consumers owing to which the corporation decided to be prepared.

South Korean governors are selling vegetables via social media
While businesses across South Korea are struggling to survive the fallout from the new coronavirus, which has affected more than 8,000 here, provincial governors have come up with creative ideas to help local farmers.

Governor Choi Moon-soon is one of them. As potato farms in the mountainous region suffered from plunging sales, the governor decided to sell potatoes himself.

"Potatoes on major sale, Gangwon's clean potatoes in full stock as potato stew is not selling due to the coronavirus. Farmers concerned on full scale," the governor wrote in a witty March 11 tweet, announcing plans to sell a 10-kilogram box of potato for just 5,000 won (US$4).

Unsold potatoes were piling up in warehouses as people increasingly began to eat at home and demand at school kitchens almost disappeared as schools postponed the new school year. Thanks to the bargain price, the potatoes became an instant phenomenon.

The 10,000 boxes that are up for sale each day at 10 a.m. usually sell out in less than a few minutes. The popularity of these potatoes have even developed into a meme.

Thailand to aid fruit exporters impacted by COVID-19
Recent forecasts showed that the coronavirus will cut the export of fruit, such as durian, mangosteen and rambutan, from 1 million tons to 80,000 tons. That is exactly why the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives has prepared measures for produce sets to enter the market between May and June this year.

Alongkorn Polabutr, advisor to the Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister, explained that if the COVID-19 situation shows signs of abating, the office will step up fruit exports to China at the end of March while also promoting domestic consumption.

The ministry will coordinate with retailers, traders, markets and fuel stations to set up sales areas, which are also to be established at government buildings and at the governor’s offices in supporting provinces. Thailand Post will contribute by aiding in the distribution of fruit and opening an online sales channel.

On financial aid, Alongkorn said assistance has been requested from the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC), including debt relief and debt restructuring with a three-year interest payment waiver. Loans are also to be offered to farmers, agricultural institutions and operators to shore up their liquidity.

80% of apples still stored in Kashmir
The coronavirus may have a sizeable effect on the struggling Kashmir apple industry. According to owners of cold storages based at Lasipora and Aglar, 80 percent of the apple stock is still stocked amid the lockdown imposed to contain the coronavirus.

Many traders whom Kashmir Reader contacted on phone said they were apprehensive about the stored fruit. “The restrictions are being intensified day by day and a large chunk of our fruit is lying in stores,” Imtiyaz Ahmad, who has stored his apples at Lasipora cold storage (in Pulwama district), told The Kashmir Reader.

Surpassing the previous figures of 100,000 tonnes of apples, around 150,000 tonnes were stored this year in cold storages based at Industrial Growth Center Lasipora, Aglar in Shopian district, and in some parts of north Kashmir.

Indian agri exports hit hard by outbreak in EU and West Asia
Exports of major agricultural produce from India has been hit due to the worsening coronavirus outbreak in the European Union (EU), West Asia and South-East Asia. While traders have not been able to resume work at import hubs, including Singapore and Hong Kong, disruptions to logistics and non-availability of container ships have hurt farm produce exports. This, despite the fact that food products were essential commodities for the importing countries.

For instance, India is the largest exporter of rice in the world, but shipments of non-basmati rice from Southern Indian ports have nearly come to a standstill. “We have witnessed a 90% loss of business since end of January," said Veera Pandian, a trader who sends shipments from Chennai and Krishnapatnam port. He said traders in Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, who serve markets in Malaysia, Indonesia and African nations, are not coming forward to purchase. “Everyone is stuck at home," Pandian said.

California growers: There's plenty of fresh produce available
Central Valley producers have seen the long lines at grocery stores all over. They want to reassure for shoppers fresh produce is still plentiful. Agriculture is the Valley's top industry. With so many families sheltering in place, local companies like Fresh Select in Dinuba have been busy moving fresh produce around the country.

Navel and blood oranges were being packed and shipped out of one Dinuba plant Action News visited. They're headed to 22 different retailers. "Our message to the rest of the nation really is there's plenty of fruit here in California. That citrus and kiwi seem to be two high-demand items right now," says owner Tim Dayka.

Consumer safety is key during this coronavirus crisis though food safety has always been a priority for those in the fresh produce industry.

Covid-19 responses test limits of globalism and food security
With governments around the world ratcheting up measures intended to control the spread of Covid-19, hastily implemented policies have started to show up the fragility of globalist policies that the agriculture trade has come to rely on. Farming lobbies around the world have petitioned governments this week to ease emergency travel restrictions, warning that shortages of the cheap migrant labour the industry has come to rely on threatening food supply chains.

At the same time, some governments have hinted that they may be looking to step up barriers, limiting trade should export volumes be deemed a threat to domestic food security.

As the system starts to show signs of fraying around the edges, Agricensus takes an in-depth look at some of the debates that have emerged in recent weeks and look set to persist over the coming months.

Maximum price for vegetables and fruit in Curaçao
The government of Curaçao has set a maximum price for fruit and vegetables, to increase the resistance of the population to the coronavirus. For example, kiwis, oranges, tangerines, broccoli, and tomatoes must remain affordable.

That was announced by the Minister of Economic Development Giselle McWilliam on Thursday. A price ceiling has also been set for hygienic products, such as disinfectant wipes and thermometers. These are latex and silicone gloves, hand disinfectants, disinfectant wipes, and spray, cleaning alcohol (with an alcohol percentage of 70 percent or more) and thermometers. These products have a maximum margin of 15 percent for wholesalers and 25 percent for retailers.

Minister McWilliam has signed the ministerial regulation that sets maximum margins. It takes effect immediately after publication. These are goods that are in great demand worldwide after the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Problems for Maharashtra’s grape exports
Maharashtra’s grape growers are in a tight spot with the export of about 35,000 tonnes stuck due to the coronavirus spread. This month, as of Friday, March 20, Maharashtra has exported over 74,000 tonnes of grapes to various countries, compared to 89,000 tonnes in March 2019. The maximum number of grape consignments have gone to the Netherlands (48,000 tonnes) followed by the UK (9,800 tonnes) and Germany (8,835 tonnes). In 2018-19 the Netherlands, Russia, the UK, Bangladesh and Germany were major grape export destinations.

“Almost 30 per cent of the grapes are still in the fields. This would amount to about 25,000-30,000 tonnes of export-quality grapes. We are closely watching developments and hope that the coronavirus spread will not affect grape exports,” Vilas Shinde, Chairman and Managing Director of the Nashik-based Sahyadri Farms told thehindubusinessline.com. Sahyadri is one of the leading exporters of grapes. Lockdowns and depleting demand for grapes abroad is also a cause for concern for farmers. The demand in supermarkets in the UK and Germany has gone down drastically, according to exporters.

Adding to their worries, hailstorms and heavy downpours in parts of Marathwada, western and north Maharashtra, where grape cultivation is concentrated, have already damaged grapes.

US: Crops slower to move from off farms and into stores
The coronavirus is affecting farming in the United States, and it could affect food supplies. First Coast News began following local farmer Brian Jones from western St. Johns County over the course of a full year. As the coronavirus starts to infiltrate many parts of life, he is very concerned, saying crops are being grown, but they need to get into the marketplace. "We are planting our spring crop of green beans," he said. And the potato crop is looking good. "We’re about a month from our harvest here in north Florida.”

When it comes to the coronavirus and farming, there’s good news and bad news for farmers. The good news is "there's a high demand," he said.  Demand for food is indeed high. More people are stocking up on food at grocery stores. But then the bad news deals with supply.

The coronavirus is not affecting Jones because his crops -- potatoes and green beans -- are harvested with machines. But for his fellow farmers who have crops that are harvested by hand, the labor force is just not there, even though the crops are ready.

Philippines: local government units urged to include fresh produce in food packs
Agriculture Secretary William Dar on Sunday urged local government units (LGUs) to include fresh produce from local farmers when distributing food packs for households during the health emergency. He also pointed out that aside from providing sure market for farmers, fresh produce items are nutritionally beneficial in strengthening the human immune system against the coronavirus disease.

Some LGUs have started distributing food packs to aid families with critical need for food supplies, especially those who are under quarantine and cannot go out of their houses.

Bangladesh: Panic buying doubles onion prices in Dhaka
Onion prices doubled in just three days in the retail markets amid panic buying triggered by coronavirus outbreak. Traders blamed the rise on customers who are buying essentials in large quantities and stockpiling them fearing a lockdown to prevent coronavirus from spreading.

People have paid no heed to the government’s assurance that there is enough in the stock. The trend of panic buying of essentials began in Dhaka after the detection of the first coronavirus case in the country in the second week of March.


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