18. New Coronavirus Pandemic ― Channels of Transmission to Food and Agriculture
In response to an increasing concern over possibilities of food crisis arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations emphasized that there is sufficient global food stock and that the impact of export restriction is so far limited. On the other hand, there is a possibility that lockdown and movement restrictions to control COVID-19 pandemic will affect the agricultural sector and may result in food crisis by disrupting food chain, and the procurement of the inputs and workers necessary for production (Pick Up 8, 9, 11, 14).
According to the report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the COVID-19-induced pandemic affects the entire food system, affecting all elements of the food system, from primary supply, to processing, to trade as well as national and international logistics systems, to intermediate and final demand. It also affects factor markets, namely labour and capital, and intermediate inputs of production. The channels of transmission into food and agricultural demand include numerous macroeconomic factors, notably swings in exchange rates, in energy and credit markets, and, most importantly, the expected surge in unemployment and the contractions in overall economic activity
In some African countries, the effects of movement restrictions and logistic disruptions have already been reported (BBC World Service). In western Kenya, many small farmers grow vegetables and raise dairy cows at home gardens, and sell fresh vegetables and milk to nearby markets and hotels. Currently in Kenya, curfew is imposed from 7 pm to 5 am as a countermeasure against coronavirus, the plight of farmers who are at a loss without knowing when to earn income was reported, for while the government plans to ease the transport of agricultural products, there is a concern that no buyers will appear in the market (BBC News World Service April 12, 2020 14:30-). On the other hand, agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, feeds and fuel, agricultural machinery and workers are indispensable for agricultural production. Faming activities, including lanting and harvesting, will be disrupted if the supply of these materials is interrupted or their costs rise sharply due to movement restrictions, distribution disruptions, and exchange rate fluctuations.
FAO noted that grain and oilseeds production in high-income countries such as those in the European Union, the United States of America or Canada, depend heavily on intermediate inputs, notably energy, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. If COVID-19 were to disrupt the flow of these inputs either from local or international suppliers to the farm level, this could result in an immediate decline in outputs. Developing countries, by contrast, would be less exposed to these input supply shocks, in consideration of the low utilization of such inputs (Schmidhuber et al. 2020). Indeed, many Sub-Saharan African countries have low level of use of chemical fertilizers. In reality, in the small-scale farmers sector in the region, not only farmers but also many stakeholders such as intermediaries, wholesalers, and retailers are involved in the value chain from trading fertilizers and seeds to bringing harvested products to markets. Many intermediaries use “public transport” such as mini-buses and motorcycles to connect farmers to the market. In East Africa, such as Rwanda, whose planting season is approaching between March and April, the ban on movement prevents the procurement of chemical fertilizers, seeds, livestock feed /medicines, and extension services, which hinders agricultural work (Down to Earth).
In addressing food security in developing countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of not only the production and consumption of food, but also the well-functioning of the food value chain, distribution and logistics.
BBC World Service. Can Africa cope with coronavirus? April 9, 2020. Accessed on April 12, 2020.
BBC World Service. The Real Story Coronavirus: Is Africa ready? April 10, 2020. Accessed on April 11, 2020.
BBC World Service. Togetherness: Coronavirus Global Conversations. April 12, 2020. Accessed on April 12, 2020.
Down to Earth. COVID-19: Agriculture in East Africa takes a hit. April 7, 2020. Accessed on April 9, 2020
J. Schmidhuber, J. Pound, B. Qiao. 2020. COVID-19: Channels of transmission to food and agriculture. Rome, FAO.
Contributor: IIYAMA Miyuki (Research Strategy Office)