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

Corona-update: Fuel shortages in Venezuela hinder food deliveries

In the current situation of national lockdowns and irresponsible panic buying, nations are trying to adapt as best they can. In Germany, vegetable prices may rise as the coronavirus has disrupted the agri labor market. The US citrus prices seem to be improving in wake of COVID-19, but the British ‘just-in-time’ delivery model is said to have ‘crumbled’ due to coronavirus.

Sadly and incredibly for one of the largest oil producing nations, there are fuel shortages in Venezuela that are causing complications for the production and delivery of food. In India, experts are worried that it may take months for farm exports to recover. Read about all this and more in today’s Corona-virus update.

German vegetable prices may rise as coronavirus disrupts labor
Following coronavirus-related travel bans that are preventing east Europeans from gathering harvests at domestic farms, German fruit and vegetable prices may increase.

Germany’s decision to close borders and restrict travel means many thousands of seasonal workers, mainly from east Europe, cannot start planting and harvesting vegetables and fruit, DBV president Joachim Rukwied stated on Wednesday.

European Union countries should allow the hundreds of thousands of seasonal migrant workers who plant or harvest crops to cross borders despite national measures to contain the coronavirus, the EU Commission said on Monday. Countries across the EU have set up border controls to stem the virus outbreak, which have also resulted in delayed food and medical supplies.

German producers warned that the lack of workers meant vegetables may not get harvested, even though the country’s government has announced certain measures, including a new website for people seeking work on farms.

“We reckon that we will face overall reduced supplies of fruits and vegetables. Some farmers were considering cancelling orders for seeds and plants because of the lack of workers, Rukwied added.

US citrus prices improve in wake of COVID-19
As consumers have become more concerned about the immune system benefit of vitamin C, this seems to be good news for Florida and California orange juice makers; orange juice futures were up 22% in March.

“Demand has improved as consumers are returning to frozen orange juice due to the coronavirus,” and the increase “has really turned the market around,” said Jack Scoville, a vice president for Price Futures Group in Chicago.

What was looking like a second down year for local citrus has started to improve. Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual president Casey Creamer reports that demand domestically and from China has improved fruit movement recently but prices are “still below the cost of production.” Perceived health benefits of vitamin C-rich citrus have seen daily U.S. home consumption improve in recent weeks, despite a falloff in food service. And with China reducing their retaliatory tariffs on U.S. citrus by about half to 35% earlier in March, export sales to that country -which have been non-existent for two years- have increased. On the labor front, Creamer says so far, workers are coming to the fields and packing houses despite the spread of the virus.

UK ‘just-in-time’ delivery model has crumbled due to coronavirus
Stockpiling has upended supermarkets. But they’re already fighting back. For a short while, aisles were bare and panic buying gripped the nation. Or so we thought.

The data shows something else was going on. Analysis by market insights firm Kantar found that a significant number of customers were just adding a few extra items to their shop had managed to break the typically well-oiled system. The impact from that very small increase in demand from every single shopper early on showed just how poorly prepared supermarkets were for what was about to come.

And you can hardly blame them. Supermarkets are used to planning months in advance for seasonal events like Christmas, when people buy more than they typically would at other times of the year.

The inability to cope with unexpected demand has resulted in short-term supply issues and exposed the precarious way modern-day supermarket supply chains are run. Sparks says that the majority of what you see on the shelves is all of the stock that the supermarket is carrying. Why don’t they hold more in the back? “

Customers are the ones footing the bill for the additional cost of prime retail space, which is one of the reasons why stock in local supermarkets like Tesco Express is sometimes more expensive than at larger branches.

Fresh vegetables may also be more difficult to procure because they’re often imported from countries like Spain. Still, experts are is optimistic that our ability to get fresh produce will improve.

Venezuela: Fuel shortages hinder food delivery amid quarantine
Venezuela’s fuel shortages are causing growing complications for the production and delivery of food to a crisis-stricken nation, according to ten food industry sources.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government is struggling to provide fuel to the OPEC nation’s service stations due to chronic refinery problems and US sanctions that have left most trading firms unwilling to ship gasoline to Venezuela.

Venezuela’s food production has plummeted after years of heavy state control over the farming sector, contributing to malnutrition and a humanitarian crisis during six years of economic recession.

Fuel shortages are making matters worse. In the Andean state of Tachira, close to the Colombian border, farmers fear they will lose their crops of potatoes and carrots because they cannot get enough fuel to harvest them. Also, the wholesalers who buy their wares cannot find diesel to transport goods to capital Caracas.

The problem is directly affecting the transport of tomatoes, peppers and onions, all of which are staples of the Venezuelan diet, said Aquiles Hopkins, president of agriculture industry association Fedeagro.

Some food processing plants are limiting operations because workers cannot reach the facilities due to fuel shortages and because finished products cannot be transported.

Bahrain: Gulf Air and All Food Company imports 4 tons of fresh produce from Europe
The Gulf Air and All Food Company imported approximately 4,000 kgs worth of fresh produce from Europe, using Gulf Air’s flagship Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Gulf Air and All Food Co., in an initiative spearheaded by Team Bahrain, are working together to ensure that the global outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) does not affect Bahrain’s food security.

Gulf Air invites Bahraini food suppliers to utilize its cargo operations, which are dedicated to ensuring a stable and safe food supply chain.

India: Farm exports may take months to recover
Grape growers in Nashik have seen the extended monsoon cause a huge loss during the last harvest in 2019, but were hoping to make some profits as this year's grape output looked good. Now, the government has imposed a 21-day nationwide lockdown last week to control Covid-19 cases in India. Suddenly, the growers are just working to cut down their losses.

“I am devastated. Despite the fact that mine is largely an export-oriented garden. I am willing to sell my produce at less than half the rate in the local markets, but no one is willing to buy,” said one grower. “Being a highly perishable crop, the ripened fruit can't be kept on the vines for long while exporting them is out of question. Despite relaxation of the rules, things are simply not moving on the ground.”

B.K. Mishra, Managing Director of National Federation of Fisherman’s Cooperative has seen the sector from close quarters for more than 25 years. He says despite best efforts, there is no large-scale selling of fish and the business has come down to just 5-10 per cent of what it was a few weeks back.

Karnataka government buys from farmers to curb losses
Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa has headed a meeting of his cabinet colleagues and state officials to work out ways to help farmers hit by restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Images of farmers dumping produce including milk and tomatoes as they could not get a good price have been widely shared.

"We have discussed this. Only two-three cases are there. And we are going to give some support to them. In future, that kind of thing will not happen. We have given clearance to purchase and distribute in the district and taluk level and Bengaluru," Mr Yediyurappa stated.

Yediyurappa is hoping to reassure farmers. "Farmers should not feel bad. The government is with them and we are going to support them wholeheartedly in all respects. We are going to purchase fruit and vegetables from them and distribute... Farmers should not worry," the Chief Minister said.

Several measures were discussed at the meeting. The loss of market in neighbouring states for fruit, muskmelon and grapes because of the lockdown and closing of state borders has led to losses. Attempts will be made by the Karnataka government to use and process the excess fruit.

Kenya: Exports affected by tripled freight charges
Producers of fresh goods in Kenya are upset by the current freight charges, which have tripled in the last one month due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

With several European Union countries on lockdown, the export of the vegetables and fruits has dropped by over 50 percent with farmers already sending their staff home.

According to Edward Mureu, the proprietor of Naivasha based Rubi Ranch, the country is staring at hunger and major job losses in the coming months. Mureu noted that Kenya Airways and British Airways had canceled all their flights to the EU leading to a crisis in exporting their products.

“For years we have relied on the two airlines to export our products and with their closure, we have moved to other airlines that are charging triple the normal prices,” he said.

Speaking during a tour of his farm, Mureu said that already he has been forced to send home fifty percent of his workforce meaning a drop in production.

The farmer who deals in French beans, broccoli, baby corn among other produce called on the government to zero-rate farm inputs and lower the cost of electricity tariffs. One of his workers said that the disease had raised fear and anxiety among the workers who had no other source of livelihood.

Agricultural Employers Association (AEA) chief executive Wesley Siele said that the drop in the exports is a result of limited movement of consumers in Europe. According to Siele, supermarkets -mainly in the UK, Sweden and Russia- were still ordering fresh produce from the country though getting cargo flights is a challenge.

Chinese fruit farmers hurt by lockdown as harvests rot
China’s fruit farmers, hurt by lost crops from coronavirus lockdowns and a slow recovery in demand, are looking to reduce plantings, switch crops or even take other jobs to cover their losses.

Quarantine measures to curb the spread of the virus have disrupted supply chains and labour, preventing many farmers from harvesting produce or selling any they could salvage. China is the largest producer of many fruits, accounting for over half the world’s apples and roughly 70% of all grapefruit, peaches, tangerines and pears, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, although most is consumed locally.

Hardest hit have been small farmers without access to cold storage or those producing quick-spoiling produce such as cherry tomatoes and strawberries.

Industry experts say many farmers resumed production as China’s virus lockdowns eased but demand has been slower to recover, particularly from commercial buyers such as restaurants, cafes and canteens.

Oman presents plan for online sale of fruits and vegetables
Oman’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry is working with Muscat Municipality and Oman Technology Fund (OTF) on designing a system to enable the sale and purchase of fruits and vegetables online from the Central Vegetables and Fruits Market (CVFM). This step comes within the precautionary measures of the Supreme Committee tasked with the mechanism to tackle the spread of COVID 19, by preventing gatherings at public places.

A joint meeting comprising the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Muscat Municipality , the Public Authority for Consumer Protection and the Directorate General of Customs at Royal Oman Police was held yesterday with the companies operating in the field of import at the Central Vegetables and Fruits Market (CVFM), Al Mawaleh.

The meeting discussed the regulatory measures for operation of the Central Vegetables and Fruits Market aimed to limit the impact of COVID 19 and to ensure smooth operation of the CVFM amidst the current situation.

Filipino truckers resume delivery as vegetables flood Benguet trading post
One ton of assorted vegetables was shipped out across the country on Wednesday as the local government lifted the two-day transport ban at the height of a community quarantine to check the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Early in the day, 160 vehicles unloaded fresh vegetables at the Benguet Agri-Pinoy Trading Center (BAPTC) into larger trucks bound for Metro Manila. At the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post (LTVTP), 60 trucks formed a long queue for salad vegetables like potatoes, cabbage, carrots, lettuce and beans. About 50 trucks filled with vegetables lined up at Farmers’ Center here to wait for buyers from other provinces.

Benguet supplies over 80 percent of the country’s salad vegetables, which are packed in trading posts. La Trinidad government closed LTVTP and several private trading posts on Monday and Tuesday to disinfect these areas while contact tracing was done involving the town’s first two COVID-19 patients.

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