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

Corona-update: France to reopen a quarter of food markets

In the latest news, Dutch potato growers are facing huge losses now restaurants and snack bars have closed their doors, and the closure of chip shops in Britain is bad news as well. However, in France, about a quarter of food markets are to reopen, having been granted an exemption from the coronavirus lockdown.

In East Africa, Kenyan farmers were told to stop harvesting onions after people there were not following the state hygiene guidelines. Meanwhile, Spanish producers are feeling the lack of a migrant workforce, but Turkey came out with the message that no produce shortages are imminent. This, and much more, in our Corona-virus update.

Netherlands have potato surplus now snack bars are closed
Dutch potato growers are facing huge losses now restaurants and snack bars have closed their doors and compensation plans have not yet materialised. The Netherlands is one of the main producers of potatoes for making fries. Now that the majority of restaurants, bars and fast food outlets worldwide have closed their doors to contain coronavirus, growers are looking at a stock of 1.5 million tons of potatoes, two thirds of which cannot be sold.

Talks with agriculture minister Carola Schouten are ongoing but have, as yet, not resulted in a firm commitment to a compensation package, according to André Hoogendijk of agricultural trade organisation BO Akkerbouw. The closure of chip shops in Britain is bad news as well.

It has left thousands of tonnes of potatoes languishing in storage – threatening to put farmers out of business. Although government guidelines allow takeaway food outlets to remain open, 80-90% of fish and chip shops are said to have closed their doors. The decision has seen a slump in demand for chipping potatoes.

France: Quarter of food markets to reopen
About 2,500 French food markets may go back into business this week, after they were granted an exemption from the rule that ordered them to close down during the coronavirus lockdown.

Most of the markets are small-scale situated in rural areas and towns with less than 2,500 inhabitants, according to the French national federation of markets and the Agricultural Ministry. But cities like Lille, Grenoble, Rennes were also on the list of areas that were allowed to reopen food markets, in an agreement negotiated between unions and the French agricultural and interior ministries, announced on Tuesday.

Paris did not feature on the list of areas granted an exemption from the government's coronavirus lockdown rules. Nor did its suburbs Seine-Saint-Denis and Hauts-de-Seine.

While the markets would be able to go back into business as soon as this week, they would need to comply with strict health regulations. Mairies (town/city halls) would need to organise for customers to line up outside the exit of the market and that only one person would be allowed at each booth at the time. Booths must be spaced out and shoppers must respect rules of social distancing by keeping one metre between them. Entries and exits must provide hand sanitising gel dispensers and sellers must wash their hands between each customer. No cash would be allowed and everyone would need to pay by contactless card payment.

Jamaican agriculture ministry injects $240 mln into industry
Jamaica’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries says it has made a total of $240 million available to purchase excess produce from farmers as the country continues the fight against the COVID-19 virus. The move forms part of efforts by the ministry to redistribute excess fruits and vegetables of farmers to local consumers, which would have been otherwise supplied to the hotel and hospitality sector.

Minister without portfolio JC Hutchinson noted that this will begin with immediate effect and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) will be working with the farmers who have the excess. “Purveyors would utilize the existing collection, storage and distribution mechanisms to purchase produce from farmers and move into the marketplace including large purchasers and communities and work places,” he said.

Other initiatives being undertaken by the ministry in light of COVID-19, includes the identification of several buyers and distributors with access to cold storage facilities who have identified willingness to continue purchase of agricultural produce from farmers and assisting in the process of purchasing produce at the farm level and distribution to final markets.

Sharp increases and shortages of fruit and vegetables in Argentina
In the last few days, prices of tomatoes, potatoes, onions, squash and oranges, just to mention a few, doubled in supermarkets. And, in greengrocers, those amounts are three times those in force in the days before the isolation. Several shops consulted also indicate that lettuce, spinach and carrots are missing.

The situation is of concern to the government. The Central Market in Buenos Aires will launch on Tuesday afternoon a “social commitment to supply”. The wholesale prices of some products will be defined there and there will be suggestions for neighbourhood vegetable shops. “We are working with the idea that retailers have a reasonable margin. And we want people to have information on reference prices,” says Nahuel Levaggi, president of the Central Market. This way they believe they will help consumers make better purchasing decisions.

Kenyan farmers told to stop harvesting onions
Onion farmers in West Pokot county have been told to halt harvesting onions since the major market for their produce has been closed over non-compliance with coronavirus prevention guidelines. Speaking to press, county commissioner Apollo Okello said they were forced to close Ortum Market after people there were not following guidelines to help curb the spread the virus.

He said 20 people were arrested on Tuesday after they were found in one onion store packing onions ready for distribution without proper hygiene. He asked buyers from other regions not to visit the market since it will be closed for some time. “Farmers should not harvest their produce for some time as we monitor the situation since we don’t want to risk anybody's lives."

Ortum is widely known for its onions and buyers come from as far as from Nairobi, Mombasa, Lodwar, Busia and Kisumu. The commissioner asked residents to observe the laid down guidelines to help prevent the spread of the virus. He said very soon they are going to fumigate all markets in the county.

COVID-19 affects reefer operations in Port of Manila
Due to the effect of the Covid-19, many ports are congested. In particular there are no more reefer plugs available in Manila port. MSC has been requested not to discharge reefers containers. MSC has no option but to apply clause 19 of our Bill of Lading and Sea Waybill Terms and Conditions and declare end of voyage and advise you from where your container(s) may be collected.  

Spanish producers are feeling the lack of a migrant workforce
The closure of borders means migratory farmhands are not available to harvest crops through the coronavirus lockdown. With the emergency lockdown now in its third week in Spain and a near-complete economic shutdown in place for at least the next ten days, there is great uncertainty at present within the agriculture and farming sector, and although significant efforts have been made to ensure that the food supply chain remains functional throughout the country a major problem is reported to be looming over the next few weeks.

In mid-April the harvesting of summer fruit and vegetable crops such as water melons, peaches and cherries begins, and at the moment some farmers are facing severe difficulties in recruiting the workforce necessary to ensure that crops make their way from the fields and orchards to supermarkets and markets all over Spain and the rest of Europe.

In normal circumstances many of those employed in harvesting are migratory workers from northern Africa and Eastern Europe, but in the present situation they have not been able or willing to make their way to Spain due to travel restrictions and the closure of the country's borders.

Vietnam exports fresh fruit to China in refrigerated containers
Export of fresh fruit to China via train using refrigerated containers has contributed to curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Vietnam Railways Corporation (VNR), this kind of shipping helps reduce the number of people engaged in the export procedure, while it is not necessary to quarantine drivers and owners.

The VNR said on March 30 that after more than a month of operation, over 200 refrigerated containers of dragon fruit have been shipped to China. Apart from dragon fruit, nine other types of fruit will be exported to China by train in the time ahead.

Durian traders switch to selling eggs as sales of the fruit plunge
Currently, in Malaysia, the sales of durian is plummeting¸ forcing sellers of the king of fruits in Klang to switch to hawking eggs instead. Traders were quoted as saying that they faced difficulty in trying to obtain the fruits from the usual suppliers from Raub in Pahang and Johor during the MCO.

Turkey: “No product shortage” message came out
Ceyhan Gündüz, President of Ankara Vegetable and Fruit Brokers Association (ASEMKOM), made an assessment regarding the latest situation in the vegetable and fruit sector, in which the eyes were focused with the Kovid-19 outbreak. Saying that there was an explosion of demand especially in the sales of vegetables and fruits last week, Gündüz said, “Following the Kovid-19 outbreak, we have taken the necessary precautions and the trade continues. There is no problem in the fruit and vegetable sector.”

“Currently, because the export of fruits and vegetables has decreased, the prices have decreased a little in the country. Do not mean that the decrease in prices will decrease constantly. There is no problem in product sales at the moment. There are still all products available. There are as many products as you want in a wholesaler.”

Saudi Arabia announces high level of food self-sufficiency
On Monday, Saudi Arabian officials that there are sufficient stocks of essential goods and food supplies to meet market demand amid the coronavirus outbreak.

During a press conference, Dr. Abdullah Aba Al-Khail, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, said that all food production operations are continuing smoothly with sufficient strategic storage of basic commodities.

“The Kingdom has achieved high levels of sufficiency in many agricultural products. These include 60 percent of self-sufficiency in poultry, with production of one million tons annually, 60 percent in vegetables, with local production of about 180,000 tons per month, 109 percent in milk and dairy products, which is more than 7.5 million liters per day, and 55 percent in seafood products.”

India: FAMA to set up 97 fresh produce sales centres nationwide
Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority FAMA will set up new sales centres for fresh produce at 97 locations nationwide, said Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

He added it would include 10 selected farmers’ markets, permanent farmers’ markets (33), FAMA operations centers (17), MyFarm outlets (three) and area farmers' associations (PPK) (34).

“While we allow the people to have more choices at wet markets including farmers’ markets, the standard operating procedure (SOP) of the Movement Control Order (MCO) must be adhered to. [The move] is to control the congestion at wet markets in the morning… as it is difficult to practice social distancing.”

The selected farmers’ markets would operate from 8 am to 12.30 pm, twice a week, while for the FAMA operations centres, permanent farmers’ markets and MyFarm outlets, the operating hours would be from 8.30 am to 4 pm daily, he said.

Romanian government sets up marketplace for local farmers
Romania’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR) has made available to small farmers an online platform where they are able to state the quantities of vegetables they are ready to sell, in order to facilitate a dialogue with the big retail chains, the ministry announced on Monday, March 30, Agerpres reported.

A shortage of fruits and vegetables has become visible in Romanian modern retail chains, as the imports from Italy, Spain and, to some extent, the Netherlands have become problematic despite the European Commission calling for the creation of transport corridors through the borders sealed by most of the European countries.

The new measure aims to identify the best ways to pick up the goods directly from local producers, the ministry commented.

Ukraine might be facing a food crisis
The coronavirus pandemic posed a difficult task for the food system of the Ukraine. The coronavirus epidemic and strict quarantine imposed by the authorities, which will last at least until the end of April, have become a serious test for Ukraine and its citizens. Many were left without work or were forced to take up leave, and someone may not have enough savings even to buy food until the end of forced isolation.

Local food markets have been closed in the country, but grocery stores and supermarkets continue to operate, having received carte blanche to dictate their pricing policy to buyers deprived of choice. Basic foodstuffs have begun to skyrocket since early March. The Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine recorded a rise in prices in the regions of the country: for buckwheat – by more than half, millet – by a quarter, and sugar – by 16%. Vegetables also rose significantly in retail chains: almost 60% for potatoes, while onions and carrots doubled.

The closure of street markets created problems for suppliers and farmers who had never worked with large retail chains, and also caused a shortage of some fruit and vegetables, which supermarkets do not specialize in.

Kenya claims food situation is secure despite pandemic
Kenya is committed to ensuring food security despite the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, a government official said on Tuesday. Peter Munya, cabinet secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives, said that food supply is so far sufficient in all parts of the country.

"Let's resist panic buying which will create an unwarranted shock in the market pushing the cost of food up.” Munya assured Kenyans that the government is putting in place the necessary mechanisms to avert potential food shortages due to the impacts of the deadly virus.

He said that the government will release guidelines to all stakeholders in the agricultural sub-sector on how to conduct their business while ensuring their own safety and that of their customers.

The Kenyan government is closely monitoring the cost of food across the country and taking stern measures against traders who create artificial price inflation on food and agriculture inputs.

US food industry dealt a heavy blow
American restaurant revenues for 2020 will be much lower than initially forecast as consumers spend more of their dining-out budgets at grocery stores instead, according to an updated food price report that predicts annual restaurant sales will be slashed in half.

"It all comes down to ... the result of people having to change the way they buy and consume food," said Simon Somogyi, a University of Guelph associate professor who co-authored the report with Dalhousie University professor Sylvain Charlebois.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen restaurants across the country close or shift to delivery and pick-up models amid efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Sales plummeted at many restaurants.

Restaurants typically generate more than $90 billion in annual sales, but the researchers expect $40 billion to $50 billion of that will shift to grocery stores throughout the pandemic. Grocery stores have seen unprecedented demand as the pandemic spread with consumers stockpiling cleaning supplies, toilet paper and food.


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