The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted global supply chains in many sectors, highlighting how fragile some of the industries that we heavily rely on are — the entire food supply chain being one. The spread of the virus is having an impact on farm operations across the world, however, the ones that are hit the hardest are the most vulnerable, particularly in developing countries.
Agriculture is the backbone of many economies, providing food, raw materials, and jobs to a large percentage of the global population. With lockdown, closed borders, reduced market space for agricultural products due to the closure of shops and restaurants, and businesses trying to cut costs at such a volatile time, farmers are suffering hugely. Jitendra Bangar, an Indian farmer on the north-eastern outskirts of Mumbai, spent the first few weeks of April keeping his harvested vegetables watered and stored in hope that they’d remain fresh until they could be sold. However, strict lockdown measures prevented trade and he sold his goods for a tiny fraction of the price he’d normally receive before they rotted.
Here, we’ll take a look at how Covid-19 has impacted farmers in developing nations across the world.
Brazil is the largest coffee bean producer in the world, which has approached its annual harvest in the dry seasons of June through to September. 2020’s harvest is estimated to be 70 million bags, the biggest crop ever.
Although 2020 was expected to be fruitful due to perfect climate conditions since September 2019, the effects of Covid-19 have spilled into every corner of the coffee sector including delays in shipments, labour shortages, disruptions to the physical harvest, container shortages, and changes in global consumption due to declining out-of-home consumption in Europe.
For farmers in key coffee producing regions, it’s good news that prices are rising and reaching record levels — particularly as coffee prices have dropped 30 per cent since 2016. However, logistical problems are interfering with supplying it, with 60 per cent of the harvest left unpicked and eventually left to rot. The BBC reported that Miguel Fajardo, a coffee farmer in western Columbia, has seen a drop in orders of more than 50 per cent over the last month alone, and the situation is expected to get worse. It’s possible that farmers of specialty coffee might not recover from the Covid-19 shock, putting millions of livelihoods at risk.
Fair trade is a widespread movement designed to give farmers in developing countries better prices, good working conditions, and sustainability instead of being exploited. The movement has largely been driven by consumers seeking ethical companies and transparent supply chains. However, fair trade isn’t immune to the effects of Covid-19, with farmers already living on thin margins even in normal times. With production levels dropping due to social distancing measures in factories, and prices falling in the regions which produce Britain’s favourite items, prices of our household staples could surge to make up for the last few months of hardship. But what does this mean for fair trade farmers? Many companies will be looking to cut costs during the current situation, which means farmers will suffer due to their immediate vulnerability and their reliance on fair trade as a vital source of income. On top of struggling financially, Covid-19 presents a very real high health risk as many farming communities are rural, with limited access to health care facilities.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the price of high-demand food and sanitary products has increased sharply over the last few months, with items such as beans, toilet, roll, and organic coffee increasing by at least four per cent.
Now, it’s more important than ever to continue buying fair trade products where possible to make a difference to the lives of millions of others who are stuck in an unfair and unfortunate situation. The Fairtrade Minimum Price is a safety net for fair trade coffee products, ensuring no exploitation will take place in volatile and vulnerable times.
Kenya is losing £240,000 a day as flower production farms are unable to function to full capacity. Kenya is an important source of roses — a third of the roses sold in the EU come from Kenya — and these flowers are Kenya’s second largest export after tea and contributing to around one per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP). But with demand drying up in lockdown due to cancelled events, Kenyan workers are suffering, with many stuck and unable to go home due to expensive flights.
Clement Tulezi, chief executive of the Kenya Flower Council, said: “We have been hit very hard, unlike other industries…say manufacturing that we can wait to see impacts in a week or a month. Ours is immediate.
“Europe generally takes up to 70 per cent of our products, and therefore, any kind of lockdown has an immediate impact.”
Flower farms are picking and destroying the flowers as they can’t be shipped anywhere, with workers sent home who have no other line of income. Some have had to reduce their meals from three to one or two a day, with the situation getting tougher as time passes.
If you can, you should consider buying your food and commodities from fair trade and ethical suppliers. Covid-19 has been a difficult time for all of us, but farmers in developing countries are particularly vulnerable.