RESILIENT AGRICULTURE REQUIRES TRADE BARRIERS BE REMOVED
A blog post by a banana farmer in the Rakai district of Uganda points out that the vast majority of Uganda’s bananas supply local markets, but more than 1,000 tons each year head to Europe (AgWeb, 4 October). The poster quotes Maximo Torero Cullen, the Chief Economist of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “One of every five calories people eat have crossed at least one international border, up more than 50 percent from 40 years ago.” This blogger states that “Sometimes it seems as though we don’t need to promote trade as much as we need to remove the obstacles that prevent it from reaching its full potential. […] Covid-19 has disrupted much of the activity we already have. Borders have shut. The paperwork is immense. The rhetoric is hostile: Kenya and Uganda have accused each other of introducing cases of coronavirus. During the crisis, our exports to the UK dropped as the cost of airlifting cargo from Entebbe rose. Even local trade is distorted. To combat Covid-19, our government gave away so much maize flour that the demand for bananas dropped. As prices plummeted, fewer trucks arrived on our farm to pick up the fruit. Bananas became so cheap, we wound up feeding them to our goats.”
“One of the lessons of 2020 is simple resilience: In farming, we never know what to expect. Nobody saw the pandemic coming. As the world grappled with it, business in Uganda and everywhere faltered. People struggled but new opportunities emerged. To seize them, we had to adapt, even on our goat-and-banana farm in a developing country.”
ONE COMPANY’S ADAPTATION TO COVID-19
Afrex South Africa describes how “Covid-19 has caused us to look at the future challenges from a completely different perspective and plan our way forward accordingly” (Fresh Plaza, 1 October). For many years Afrex South Africa has specialised in marketing niche and high-value products to the food service industry, but the corona crisis changed that: since April 2020, they began marketing more basic products used in the food service industry, like fresh cut herbs, avocados, beans, broccoli and chillies. The company’s usual products, like baby vegetables, edible flowers, edible leaves and micro greens, were put on hold. “Fresh cut herbs were one of the more basic products that we felt would enable us to adapt to the new situation. Furthermore, heavy products and non-volumetric products needed to be sold to adapt to the new logistic situation. […] Avocados by air became one of these products which enabled us to meet the airlines’ strict minimum quantity stipulations, and of course balanced out our exceptionally light and volumetric products like edible flowers.” They have modified their procurement strategy in South Africa to bring them closer to the growers, with whom they have longstanding relationships. They also looked for another source of supply for year-round products like fresh cut herbs, different types of beans and tenderstem broccoli, and Kenya seemed to be the most suitable country as its logistical advantage offered a steady and consistent service.