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

Corona-update: Turkish government provides six-month postponement for farmers' loans

In today’s news, we take a look at the EU measures to alleviate the impact of the current crisis on farmers and farming activities. Also, in a response to user feedback, Facebook has started rolling out two new additions to their existing range of emojis.

In the US, Arizona farmers are rallying to feed the people in Phoenix, while growers in California see the crisis creating issues for the strawberry crop on the Central and South coasts.

The Turkish government has decided provided an interest-free six-month postponement for farmers' loans amid the pandemic. The ASEAN countries call for collaboration in food and supply chain security, while Dole Asia joins the global efforts to ensure access to nutritious food in the Asia-Pacific region. In Africa, Namibian small-scale farmers are stuck with a surplus of fresh produce because there is currently no market for them to sell their products.

This, and more, in today’s Corona-virus update.

EU wants to alleviate crisis impact on farming activities
EU farmers are among the few key workers who have not seen a dramatic change in their daily routines since the crisis began. They are still farming to supply EU citizens with food. Some public health protection measures have however affected farming activities and sales badly. While the EU has taken a number of measures to mitigate this impact, the possibility of further measures is high on the agricultural policy agenda.

Impact on farming activities
Although farming has continued during the pandemic, farming activities are in distress. Disruptions to the EU agri-food supply chain range from difficulties accessing supplies and farm workers, to limitations or closures of the destination markets for produce. The situation varies by product and region, with the crisis hitting at different times.

Seasonal labour plays an important role in various stages throughout the production process for fruit and vegetables, wine and other permanent crops. Beyond supply chains, the crisis is also affecting prices and final demand. The absence of the demand normally sparked by springtime religious festivities and private celebrations has already had a major impact on sectors as diverse as sheep meat production and floriculture.

EU support measures
The EU has taken several measures to alleviate the impact of the crisis on farmers and farming activities. Preserving the food supply chain: The guidelines issued by the Commission in mid-March – on ensuring the availability of goods and essential services and the free movement of workers – are helping Member States to work together despite the restrictive border management measures adopted to protect health.

Click here for the press release.

Facebook rolls out emojis designed to allow people to show support during lockdown
Responding to user feedback, last week, Facebook began rolling out two new additions to their existing range of 'reactions'; a hug for the Facebook app, and a purple pulsating heart for Messenger.

The pair joins other available reactions, such as the thumbs up, LOL, shock and angry emojis, which have been available for a while now and that can be used to react to content on the app. The new emojis, which rolled out globally this week, are part of a new Care Reaction, designed to allow people to show support despite being apart during Covid-19.

In a series of tweets last week, EMEA technology communications manager at Facebook Alexandru Voica, said the company hoped launching the new reactions would give people "additional ways to show their support" during this crisis.

The new hug emoji features a familiar yellow face with its arms around a red heart that animates into a gentle squeeze when clicked.

Arizona farmers are rallying to feed Phoenix families
Shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic are delivering a financial blow to restaurants and small farms, but organizations in Phoenix are finding new ways to connect consumers to local food.

Whether it's new online ordering or seasonal school snacks, many of these changes come from a necessity to adapt. Since its onset, the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted local food chains. School districts are running out of free meals, and farms are struggling to replace their lost restaurant revenues.

In these unprecedented times, the health crisis has encouraged both food producers and consumers to rethink how local food is distributed in the community.

Farmers markets are going digital
AZ Market to Door is a delivery service started by Phoenix Microgreens that sends food baskets every Friday. The service accepts SNAP benefits and customers choose what foods they want, selecting from a variety of farmers market vendors. People can order items including salad mix from Phoenix Microgreens, Greek yogurt from Culture Clash and banana nut bread from Saludeats.

Turkey postpones farmers' loans for six months
Turkey provided interest-free six-month postponement for farmers' loans amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Treasury and Finance minister announced on Tuesday.

"Thus, we offer our farmers the opportunity to postpone approximately 6 billion Turkish liras ($858.1 million) debt," Berat Albayrak said on Twitter. He said for the past 18 years, the government has always stood by farmers, and mobilized its possibilities. Today, the government backs farmers again against the COVID-19's effects.

The country also supports several sectors and citizens with salary payments, tax postponement or discounts and loans with low interest rate. The virus infected 112,261 people in Turkey so far, and killed 2,900 people, according to the latest official data on Monday.

Texas: Farmers Market in downtown Paris open
Even with Texas slowly opening back up for businesses, some summer staples will be affected, including the Paris Farmers and Artisans Market, according to Main Street Director Cheri Bedford.

“We were pleased to be able to open at all, with several markets across the state having closed until further notice,” she said. “We did some research with information given to us by the Texas Department of Agriculture and came up with guidelines for opening Paris Farmers Market. It was not easy.”

Crisis affects largest crop on Central, South coasts California
The biggest crop on the Central and South Californian coasts is facing some major coronavirus issues. Strawberries make up about $1.2 billion dollars of Ventura and Santa Barbara County’s agricultural industries. Now, the timing of the crisis couldn’t be worse.

This is peak strawberry harvest time in the region, while the situation poses both safety concerns for farmworkers and market issues for the industry. Safety is the key concern, but Ventura County officials say plans are in place to protect workers while keeping an essential industry operating. Industry officials also developed safety guidelines.

Carolyn O’Donnell, with the California Strawberry Commission, says the crisis is hitting at the peak time for the region’s strawberry harvest, and it’s affecting sales.

O’Donnell says it’s too early to assess the impacts, but the alternatives for the region’s strawberries are limited. Some can go to things like jams, but there’s limited capacity.  Additionally, the shelf life for strawberries after being picked is also limited. O'Donnel says some could go to food banks to help those in need.

But time is short. 50% of the state’s strawberries are usually harvested between now and July 1st. 

Dole Asia joins global efforts to ensure access to nutritious food
The “Sunshine for All” initiative supports almost 400,000 vulnerable people, healthcare workers and other front liners across Asia-Pacific. In an effort to provide much-needed assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dole Packaged Foods Worldwide has launched this global initiative to supply nutritious foods to those in need. Dole is inviting other organisations and companies, large and small throughout the world, to join them to help cast a little sunshine in dark times and to ensure the health of those in need globally.

Dole is focusing its efforts in Asia to support healthcare workers, front liners at retail partners, vulnerable communities, as well as employees in each country with a series of donations and partnerships in Asia. The company has committed its resources, facilities, and social impact efforts under its Sunshine for All promise to close the gap between people and access to healthy food with immediate effect.

Click here to read more about this initiative.

Emirates SkyCargo supports Sri Lankan exporters’ supply chain
Emirates SkyCargo, the freight division of Emirates, has helped Sri Lankan exporters dispatch nearly 100 tonnes of local produce to markets in Europe, the Middle East and Asia over the past two weeks, keeping supply chains and revenue flows open despite the suspension of scheduled passenger flights from Colombo.

The cargo airline deployed two Boeing 777-300 passenger aircraft operating as freighters to support exporters of perishables achieve speed to market and deliver products in pristine condition.

The cargo transported by Emirates SkyCargo on 15th and 27th April comprised principally of fish, fruit, vegetables and betel leaves to markets such as Zurich, Paris, Frankfurt, London, Brussels, Dubai, Karachi and Lahore.

An important facilitator of international trade, Emirates SkyCargo is currently operating scheduled cargo flights as well as charters using its Boeing 777-F freighters and Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft to close to 60 global destinations. The air cargo carrier has helped transport vital medical supplies to different parts of the world including to Australia on both its scheduled flights as well as on special charter flights.

Himachal Pradesh face dim prospects as cherry harvest begins
Cherry harvesting has begun in Himachal Pradesh amid the lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 with growers not hopeful of getting good profits as most markets remain closed.

It has been extra difficult for growers as untimely rain and snow in the higher reaches in the first two weeks of April first impacted fruit development due to a sharp drop in temperature. Just 50% yield is expected this time as against last year’s bumper cherry crop, which was almost 60% higher than that of the previous year, at 225 tonnes, which led to a drop in market prices.

Another factor that growers are worried about is that Delhi’s Azadpur Market, from where many of them market the produce, is now a major Covid-19 hotspot. Jahangirpuri, another hotspot, is also facing a labour shortage, because of which traders in the Capital have informed growers in HP about their inability to buy the fruits.

The Kotgarh Horticultural and Environment Society has suggested that the government allow major companies to send their air conditioned trucks up to Theogh for transporting the produce out of the state. Much of the produce is sold in Punjab and Shimla.

Namibian farmers stuck with produce and no markets
Many Namibian small-scale farmers are stuck with a surplus of fresh produce because there is currently no market for them to sell their products as a result of Covid-19, which has led to closure of many retail businesses and restricted the movement of people.

One such farmer is Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) secretary Ephraim Nekongo, who yesterday said most of them are stranded with fresh produce without a market because essential retail shops do not want to buy their products. He said big retail shops that are mostly foreign-owned buy fresh produce and eggs from neighbouring South Africa and Botswana at the expense of locally produced goods. He applauded a few retail shops such as Spar and Woermann Brock for buying some produce such as spinach, tomatoes and potatoes from local small-scale farmers.

Agriculture executive director Percy Misika said the financially-troubled Agro-Marketing and Trade Agency (AMTA) is mandated to buy these produce from local farmers for sell to the existing formal market.

ASEAN countries call for collaboration in food and supply chain security
In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, national lockdowns have led to panic buying as consumers feared food supply shortages in ASEAN countries. For many countries, it has exposed a dependency on foreign nations for staple foods that are not produced domestically.

Malaysia is a huge exporter of fresh produce such as fruit, eggs and vegetables, serving many countries intra-regionally within Asia. The decision to close its borders for two weeks in March led to a ripple effect of panic-buying in Singapore, a country heavily reliant on food imports.

Huge price rises in staple foods such as rice have consequences that go beyond hunger. As much of Southeast Asia is characterised as ‘developing’, higher consumer spending on basic sustenance heightens the risk of poverty and unemployment. ASEAN nations have called for greater intra-region co-operation for 650 million people living in its member states.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed a huge dependency on China for manufacturing, encouraging a rethink on critical infrastructure. As a response, ASEAN has promoted an economic recovery plan that focuses not only on the economy but also on social safety nets, food security and education.

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