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

Corona-update: Global container shipping capacity down 11% in April

In today’s update, we look at comprehensive EeSea data, showing that the global container shipping capacity is down 11% in April. In the US, a Massachusetts congressional delegation is pushing Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to provide direct financial relief to Massachusetts cranberry farmers, while Texas specialty crop producers suffer severe disruptions as well.

In Africa, banana farmers in Kenya’s Taveta sub-county are reporting losses running into millions of shillings as thousands of acres of banana crop waste away. Also, Myanmar fruit traders are upset that their lorries carrying fruit sit for days during Chinese inspections.

On a lighter note, look at our item on currently out-of-work gym owners in Thailand, selling durians in quite a special way.

EeSea data: Container shipping capacity down 11% in April
New analysis conducted by maritime intelligence company eeSea has revealed the extent of the impact of COVID-19 on global container shipping capacity.

According to the latest data – updated daily – a total of 302 of 2,693 sailings, or 11%, have been cancelled in May on all the main line trades.

In the first six months of 2020, a total of 1,675 sailings have been cancelled, or 11%; which comes out at 13% for 2M, 17% for Ocean Alliance and 17% for THE Alliance, while only 8% of non-alliance sailings have been cancelled.

However, the number of sailings alone only tells part of the story. Commenting on the numbers, Simon Sundboell, CEO and Founder of eeSea, said: “Understandably, ‘blank sailings’ are the talk of the town among container shipping and supply chain professionals these days. But to truly understand the impact, you need to look beyond the daily trickle of carrier advisories and the number of cancelled sailings. Instead, you need to look at the reduction of container shipping capacity and the pattern that is forming for the weeks and months ahead.”

Click here for the comprehensive article.

US delegation pushes for relief Massachusetts cranberry farmers
Much of the Massachusetts congressional delegation is pushing U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to provide direct financial relief to Massachusetts cranberry farmers. They are also pushing for the federal government to buy up surplus supplies of cranberry juice.

In a letter to Perdue, members of the delegation said cranberries were a $99.8 million industry that supported nearly 7,000 jobs as of 2015, and urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to utilize all programs at its disposal to help cranberry farmers.

"While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten jobs and local economies across the country, with some economist reportedly expecting that 'by the end of the month, more than 20 million people will have been thrown out of work, pushing the unemployment rate toward 15 percent,' it is critical that our cranberry growers have the resources they need to keep staff employed on local farms," they wrote in the letter.

Texas specialty crop producers suffer disruptions
Specialty crop producers in the Rio Grande Valley are facing significant problems due to COVID-19 disruptions and market losses, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert. Luis Ribera, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension economist, College Station, said specialty crops are being destroyed because they have no place to go, and prices have dropped due to high supplies and much lower demand.

Ribera said specialty crops ranging from citrus to onions have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. But how much remains to be seen. He and other Texas A&M AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension experts are putting together a report focused on the potential economic impact of the virus on Texas agriculture producers.

Like many other agriculture sectors, the virus has disrupted traditional supply lines and market demands. The closure of schools and demand reduction by restaurants has put some commercial specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables, in a tough spot.

“Some fresh fruits and vegetables don’t have a home to go to,” he said. “These are highly perishable products with reduced to no outlets. They can’t be stored, and prices are very low. At a certain point prices become so low the crops aren’t worth harvesting, so they disk it under.”

Dale Murden, a grower and president of Texas Citrus Mutual in Mission, said it’s too early to tell the extent of losses to Texas specialty crop producers, but changes in markets like schools and restaurants have hurt. He suspects citrus is faring better than some crops but not being able to provide schools with juices for breakfast was a big blow to the industry.

Troubles for banana farming in Taveta, Kenya
Banana farmers in Taveta sub-county are reporting losses running into millions of shillings as thousands of acres of banana crop waste away following the closure of Kongowea Market and hotels in Mombasa County after the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic.

The situation is so bad that while some farmers are said to be feeding their bananas to animals, others have given up and are leaving ripe bananas to rot away in their farms.

The number of banana farmers in Taveta run into thousands. The Taita-Taveta Bananas cooperative society has approximately 300 farmers while a larger number of farmers were private producers not affiliated to any organized association. Before the Corona outbreak, the farmers supplied Kongowea market and hotels with an average daily delivery load of 30 tonnes of bananas. The supplies sometimes could go higher if there was a production glut.

However, after the government shut down markets and hotels to curb the spread of the virus, the banana trade was disrupted to magnitudes unseen before.

Myanmar fruit traders upset about delays at Chinese border
Traders are upset that their lorries carrying fruit over the border sit for days while Chinese border guards carefully inspect every vehicle, said Sai Khin Maung, the chairperson of a fruit wholesalers association in Muse.

They lost between 3 million kyat (est. US$2000) to 4 million kyat (est. US$3000) for each truck in the last week alone. At this point “they can’t even cover their transportation costs.”

It takes too long to cross the border, Sai Khin Maung explained, and Burmese drivers aren’t allowed to enter China, which means they need to wait for Chinese nationals to drive them to their final destinations. “They don’t know how to drive the trucks from Burma and they’ve damaged some of them.”

Sai Khin Maung said China only allows 300 trucks to cross the border a day, and it’s causing pile-ups at the border. Sometimes there are more than 1,000 trucks at a time parked at the 105-miles trading zone in Muse. Burmese border guards aren’t restricting the numbers of Chinese trucks crossing the border, he said.

China has ordered a 60-day closure of all border checkpoints with Myanmar on Thursday, as the confirmed cases of COVID 19 rose to 139. The order from the Yunnan Province government said all kinds of travel between Myanmar were banned and Chinese citizens would not be allowed to cross the border until June 24.

“The order came from the Yunnan government to control the coronavirus spread. Chinese police and soldiers will be deployed at border checkpoints for security. All travel not involving trade will be suspended and the order could be extended, depending on the COVID-19 situation in Myanmar,” said an official from the Muse Township administration office on the border.

Thai durian stall manned by out-of-work gym owners
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, some Thai fitness buffs have turned to flexing their muscles with the king of fruits. Bsamfruit Durian Delivery is a newly established outfit in Chiang Mai conspicuously owned and staffed by gym owners and fitness instructors, according to their Facebook page.

(Photo: Facebook/Bsamfruit)

Since gyms have had to close due to COVID-19 restrictions, these hot bods have decided to put their muscles to good use, hefting, slicing and prising open the thorny fruits. Bsamfruit’s Facebook page is only two weeks old but already has more than 2,500 likes.

Malaysia sees surge in fresh fruit sales
The demand for fresh fruits in Malaysia has increased due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as people are consuming more to boost their immune system. Koay Swee Aik, who is the managing director of a fruit import company, said supermarket and online delivery sales for fruits have increased significantly. “Some of the more sought-after fruits now are apples, oranges, pears, grapes, kiwi fruits and blueberries. These fruits are high in antioxidants and Vitamin C,” he said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Koay said prices for certain fruits have also increased due to supply chain issues and currency exchange rates. “Many countries are in lockdown, making it difficult for us to import fruits. The cost of post-harvest processing and packing has increased due to social distancing while the freight cost increase is attributed to the lesser availability of transport. However, we do have the supply to cater to the market if the MCO is extended.”

Meanwhile, a local fruit trader said his fruit sales picked up a week after the MCO was announced. “Before the Covid-19 pandemic, my fruit sales were slower. Many customers are looking for bananas now because of the health benefits. On good days, I get a 50kg increase in banana sales compared to before. Besides bananas, many of my customers are also buying oranges which are high in Vitamin C.”

Iran: Corona-virus causes agrifood losses of $240 million plus
The current pandemic has inflicted losses worth 39,500 billion rials ($243 million) on the consumption and export sectors of Iran’s food and agriculture industry, according to research, ordered by the Iranian Parliament.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization says the coronavirus pandemic is impacting global food systems, disrupting regional agricultural value chains and posing risks to household food  security.  Large-scale lockdowns to contain the coronavirus outbreak have hurt the supply of manpower and disrupted supply chains in the agriculture industry.

However, according Majlis Research Center, the production and supply chains of farm crops, livestock and horticultural crops in Iran were less affected by the contagion, given the time the outbreak began and the freedom of the movement of agricultural products in the country.

Typically, the 12th month of the last Iranian year (Feb. 19-March 19), is a peak selling season for agrifood retailers. They usually expect a 10% increase in prices for the month compared with the average of the first 11 months of last year (March 21, 2019-Feb. 19).

However, the month’s price rise was only 2.2% compared with the average of the first 11 months due to the decline in consumption of agricultural products and food, which pushed down the revenues of agrifood providers by 7.8% or about 32,500 billion rials ($200 million).

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