Today's important Coronavirus news

Corona-update: Fresh food prices spike in Europe as lockdown continues

As the COVID-19 situation seems to be lightening up here and there, agricultural industries all over the world are still faced with a myriad of problems. Food prices have crept up across Europe during the lockdown, as food growers struggle with supply chains disrupted by measures against COVID-19.

However, The FTA and the Rail Freight Group have praised the role of UK rail in supporting the public, logistics industry and wider UK economy. Also, an Antwerp charter flight company is to begin flying seasonal workers from Romania to work in the border area between Belgium and the Netherlands to help bring in the fruit harvest. Lastly, the South African Standard Bank says digital solutions can help farmers to keep operations functioning.

On the Asian continent, however, a lack of workers has Indian mango traders facing a dilemma, the Philippines’ agricultural sector shrank by 1.2% in Q1 and governments in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have vowed not to restrict food exports.

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

Fresh food prices spike in Europe as lockdown continues
Food prices have crept up across Europe during the coronavirus lockdown as food growers struggle with supply chains disrupted by measures against COVID-19.

Certain fruit and vegetables have become more expensive in France since the start of the lockdown, according to the UFC-Que Choisir consumer association. Bananas sold in France jumped by 12 percent when comparing prices of goods sold between 2-7 March and those on sale between 6-11 April. Likewise apples jumped by 9 percent between the two periods.

Vegetables, such as lettuce, turnip and tomatoes, have increased in price by 10 percent on average, said UFC-Que Choisir.

The reasons for price increases are numerous. Transport costs have increased and consumers have shown a preference for packaged fruit and vegetables, over fears about transmission of the virus, pushing up prices with the extra packaging costs.

An increase in labour costs is partly responsible, notably for seasonal workers, as well as continued difficulties in importing produce from abroad because of coronavirus. Overall, prices have increased by an average of nine percent across the board, UFC-Que Choisir’s study found.

Businesses praise role of UK’s rail freight during the crisis
The FTA and the Rail Freight Group (RFG) have praised the role of UK rail in supporting the public, logistics industry and wider UK economy as it steps up to deliver essential items across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By launching dedicated services to transport critical supplies, running faster trains and increasing cargo capacity, rail is playing a crucial role in keeping goods moving throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, according to FTA and the Rail Freight Group (RFG).

Zoe McLernon, Multimodal Policy Manager at the FTA, said: “From launching express services dedicated to delivering essential medical supplies, food and hygiene products to running extended length trains to stock supermarkets, businesses within the rail transport sector have shown their flexibility, resilience and efficiency in the face of the pandemic.

And with rail freight set to play a crucial role in the nation’s economic recovery moving forwards, it is vital government acknowledges its importance; operators across the sector must have increased access to the national rail network permanently. Only through this increased access can rail freight continue delivering for the UK.”

Maersk app sees record use amid COVID-19
The demand is driven by customers relying on eCommerce to navigate in a business environment which has seen record numbers of employees working from home for safety reasons while performing day-to-day operations. Record demand for online business transactions has increased the Maersk shipments app usage by nearly 90% in 2020.

“As the pandemic hit and more people began working from home, customers are seeing the convenience of going online to manage their logistics business using the Maersk mobile app,” said Carsten Frank Olsen, Head of eCommerce at Maersk. ”In the first five weeks of 2020, the app averaged 70,000 business transactions weekly. By mid-April, it had grown to 130,000 business transactions weekly, reflecting an 86% increase in this online remote usage tool.”

The surge of interest in the app usage reflects the container tracking, vessel schedule, live chat, instant rate quotes, booking of containers, cargo notifications, and Spot Rates activities that customers are relying on to run their business while away from the office. Customers can use credit cards or a smart pay solution and have cargo released instantly.

Seasonal workers flying in to save Belgian fruit harvest
An Antwerp charter flight company is to begin flying seasonal workers from Romania to work in the border area between Belgium and the Netherlands to help bring in the fruit harvest.

The first flight is expected shortly at Eindhoven airport, with more to follow. At present, the main Belgian airports – Brussels, Charleroi, Antwerp and Ostend – are closed to non-essential traffic, while Liege has become the northern European hub for medical equipment.

But flights of seasonal workers are permitted, according to Carl Legein, CEO of The Aviation Factory based at Antwerp. “An entire economic sector is depending on these flights. Fruit and vegetables can’t just spend a couple of weeks longer in the fields.”

The special charter flights from Romania are billed as “business travel,” and as such are subject to less regulation than other travel under the coronavirus regulations.

Agritech solutions can help South African farmers offset COVID-19 risks
Financial services provider Standard Bank says digital solutions can help farmers to keep operations functioning, and efficiently so, during times of uncertainty. Agribusiness head Nico Groenewald says the outbreak of Covid-19 across the globe is presenting a unique set of challenges to industries and causing severe disruption to global value chains.

This is especially true with respect to agriculture and there are questions and concerns about how the locking down of countries worldwide is impacting on farmers and food supply.

While the value of South Africa’s exportable agricultural commodities to countries around the world declined by 8.8% in 2019 to $9.8-billion, the picture was expected to improve somewhat this year based on various factors.

The favourable rains and weather conditions have helped farmers to increase summer crop plantings and this has improved the prospects for higher output.

Lack of workers has Indian mango traders facing a dilemma
Despite a delayed start of the mango season in Chittoor district this year, mango growers are hopeful of a bumper crop and the initial crop has started arriving at the markets. But what worries the growers and traders is the acute shortage of workforce in the orchards, market yards and trading centres. Chittoor district is expecting a whopping 7 lakh tonnes of various prime varieties of mangoes spread over 112,000 hectares this year.

A migrant workforce of about 10,000 from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar arrives in the district in batches from March till the end of July to work in in the mango orchards, pulp units and market yards. Both the farmers and traders usually prefer the migrant workers rather than the local force considering the flexibility in labour charges.

The nationwide lockdown since March 23 has blocked the entry of migrant workers from the north, forcing the stakeholders to depend on the local workers at considerably higher wages. The prime expenditure with the mango trade would commence from mid-May with the start of collection of the fruit from orchards, loading and unloading of stocks, crushing, grading, cutting, tinning and packaging.

Agriculture sector Philippines shrank 1.2% in Q1
Lockdowns imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have adversely affected the country’s agricultural growth story in the first quarter of the year, casting uncertainty on the administration’s goal of an annual 2-percent growth for the sector.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reported on Wednesday that agriculture declined by 1.2 percent, with losses recorded in fisheries and crops. Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the decline in productivity was expected due to the impact of the Taal Volcano eruption in January, which destroyed several farm lands and fish cages.

Making matters worse was the extended implementation of the enhanced community quarantine, which has affected every facet of the agricultural value chain. Despite exemptions drawn up by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases that would allow farmers and fisherfolk to continue their livelihood, the limited movement of raw materials and goods impeded the free flow operation of the sector.

Crop production, which accounted for 54.9 percent of the total farm output, shrank by 2.1 percent during the quarter, while fisheries contracted by 5.2 percent.

ASEAN intervenes to combat Food Export Restrictions
Supply chain disruptions, driven by the pandemic, meant that melons were being discarded in Malaysia and rice was left idling at the ports in Vietnam last month. Fears of protectionism prompted governments in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to step in, calling a meeting where they vowed not to restrict food exports. The intervention is important for the rest of the world, too, which relies on ASEAN as a top supplier of certain rice, seafood, and produce. 

“We note that the COVID-19 outbreak has drawn our attention on the immediate danger of food shortage and its adverse effect on nutrition, given a sudden spike in demand and disruption in supply chains,” the agriculture ministers of the 10 ASEAN members said in a statement.

The challenge presents ASEAN with a classic economic quandary, whereby fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if states don’t agree on collective action. Fears of food shortage can drive people to hoard, which in turn creates a food shortage. 

Chennai to face vegetable crisis after Koyambedu Market shut-down
Chennai is likely to face a shortage of vegetables until May 10 with the closure of Koyambedu Wholesale Market following the coronavirus pandemic, according to S. Chandran, Market management Committee Licensed Merchants Association President and Anaithu Sangankalin Kootamaipu, the General Secretary.

As the bustling market during the lockdown was sealed off after the spurt of Corona-virus positive cases across the state linking the market, Chandran said that vegetables which were sold in Koyambedu wholesale market will be only available after the Thirumazhisai market opens.

Official sources said that vegetables would be available in Tambaram and Pallavaram which also caters to wholesale trade locally as such city won’t be totally devoid of vegetables. Abdul Khader, secretary of Koyambedu Vegetable Wholesale Merchants Association, said that the since the market is closed, vegetables will be available only once the proposed Thirumazhisai market opens.

Meanwhile, vegetable prices have spiked. Traders said that they were able to sell vegetables today by selling it to people and vendors before the market was sealed.

Covid leads to dip in perishables exports from Bengaluru airport
Numerous logistical challenges amid the Covid lockdown led to exports of perishables cargo from the Kempegowda International Airport falling by nearly 50 per cent in April, an official said on Wednesday.

"KIA processed 1,425 MT of perishable cargo in April, compared to 2,770 MT in the same month last year," said an airport official. “Shortages of farm workers and lockdown logistical restrictions have majorly contributed to the decline in exports. The countrywide lockdown and subsequent blockade of district borders by Karnataka had a significant impact on the movement of cargo.”

The Karnataka government had allowed the movement of essential products and services, including fruits and vegetables amid the lockdown. In April, the airport processed several varieties of vegetables and fruits to be air lifted by 10 airlines, including two Indian ones, to 28 international destinations. The export cargo included baby corn, green chillies, okras, ivy gourds, brinjals, onions, bitter gourds, cauliflowers, drumsticks, mangoes, bananas, papayas, pomegranates, pineapples and jackfruits.

Kashmir apple growers hit by lockdown as well
The COVID-19 lockdown has put hundreds of Kashmir apple growers in a difficult position. They don't know how to sell their stored apples, stuck in cold chambers now for more than 6 months.

Reports on the plight of apple growers in Kashmir emerged in the media following the abrogation of Article 370 and ensuing restrictions. Local mandis across the J&K were shut down, making business impossible and driving the multi-million apple trade to a negligible all-time low. Falling prices, closed mandis, and attacks by anonymous gunmen prompted distressed apple growers in the region to put apples in cold storage, as they were unable to send consignments out.

Unfortunately, the lockdown in Kashmir never eased, with coronavirus serving a double whammy. "Apple growers were anticipating to sell their apple carton at good prices in the months of March, April and May but coronavirus lockdown is hitting us badly," said one grower. "We are now in a situation where we are unable to pay rents of cold stores.”

Few growers are requesting fellow Kashmiris to buy apples in the month of Ramadan instead of other fruits like watermelons, bananas and mangoes. This may help them in recovering losses and enable them to pay debts on pesticides and cold storages.


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