This is a May 15, 2020 update of a column done previously, checking in with farmers around the world, to understand how they are being impacted by Covid-19, and what they’re doing about it.
Brazil – Luiz Roberto Saldanha Rodrigues
Fazenda California is located in Jacarezinho, a small city of 35,000 inhabitants located in the interior of the southeast region of Brazil, in Parana State. Currently with 40 workers hired in the local communities, Fazenda California develops the activities of annual crops (soy and corn) and the production of specialty coffees destined for the export market.
In early March we created a Special Committee for the management of subjects related to COVID19. The Committee is formed by the managers (my wife Flavia and me) and members of the Internal Accident Prevention Commission, including our Occupational Safety Technician. The first fundamental point to be understood and dealt with was the focus on sharing high quality information with employees in order to promote adequate protection for all and avoid panic or the use of lower quality sources of information.
Knowing the cyclical nature of agricultural crops and the importance of food production, especially in times of crisis, due to its fundamental role in supplying the domestic market as well as generating foreign exchange earnings and helping supply other nations, the Committee sought to anticipate the problem, evaluate the risk potentials within the different activities of the farm and proposed a series of measures:
- weekly meetings with workers to update on the situation of COVID19 in the world, Brazil and the community
- creation of an internal WhatsApp group to share quality information about updating and preventing COVID19
- creation of an information booklet of good practices for protection against COVID19 in agricultural activities
- acquisition and distribution of alcohol gel and masks to all employees
- training on the correct procedures for washing and disinfecting hands
- implementation of safety protocols regarding the minimum distance for transporting workers and disinfecting vehicles at the end of each route
- implementation of procedures for the use of common areas, promoting distance, avoiding agglomerations and carrying out daily disinfection of environments
- flu vaccination campaign for all employees to avoid contamination by other influenza and H1N1 viruses
- adoption of a temperature measurement protocol for all employees 3 times a day (before the start of the work shift, in the middle of the day and at the end of the workday), with preventive measures established in case of detection of feverish temperatures.
The impacts generated by our activity to date, thinking about our internal environment, are some higher expenses with training and educational measures for our workers better prevention with COVID19, which on the other hand has provided us with a great possibility of strengthening the relationship between team members and management.
Another point of great impact, in relation to the culture of coffee, is the impossibility of receiving our customers and international friends. Our harvest season runs from April to August and is traditionally characterized by the weekly reception of groups of customers from different parts of the planet who come for the annual visit, accompany the work of harvesting and processing, feel the flavors of the new harvest and, make the choice of lots to be purchased. The use of social media has been the way out so far to share the updates and innovations made for this year’s harvest, but as the chain of specialty coffees is based on relationships and the sale of experiences, it is still very difficult to measure the impacts-that will be certain, due to the global physical distance caused by the pandemic.
Cases on May 15, 2020: 208,031
Cases/Million population: 980
India – Chandrashekhar Bhadsavle
My farm is about 80-90 km from Mumbai (Bombay) which is a hotspot (redzone of COVID-19) but no positive case in my county yet. Our farm is a popular destination of Agri Tourism, but we have closed down completely for the past more than 50 days. It is certainly a big blow to our financial status. We will not be opening as the lockdown continues. But our office team has started telephone conversations with our patron guests. They feel very nice when someone from our farm connects with them.
Our last 45 years of efforts have enabled us to produce 15-20 different products every day that are perishable. This includes milk, free range chicken and eggs, fruits, veggies, cottage cheese, to name a few. It’s a great feeling of self containment of a variety of fresh food. But we have quite a surplus which was needed to be disposed in absence of tourism guests. Hence, my team and I developed a system of packing bags of fruits and veggies for individual families in the nearby town. There was no blockage for such agricultural produce. It all worked out really well and thus we have found a new way of marketing our perishable products.
Spreading the knowledge of the No Till SRT method of farming is my passion. We started holding virtual zoom meetings of the upcoming farmers with the experienced ones. We held a 3-day training program which included field demonstration and Q&A. This included 18 meetings of 30-70 farmers, one international conference (160 participants from 30 countries) and one Facebook Live meeting and the list goes on.
This approach is working out very well and we are connecting many serious farmers to whom we are teaching this technique by distance learning, especially in a situation when our main growing season starts sowing of seed in the first week of June. To the existing SRT farmers, the technique has proved them to be self-reliant and independent from outside help to produce food. This is one of the biggest gains realised of the SRT technique.
Overall, I, my family and my team are enjoying life on this 50 acre farm during this lockdown. Taking up newer projects, making bigger achievements of increasing more happy farmers and so on. I can’t ask for more from the Almighty.
Cases on May 15, 2020: 85,760
Cases/Million population: 62
United States – Tim Keegan
Covid19, a term that as a world we will not forget and will be engraved in history forever. Here in Iowa, Covid19 has had a major impact on the agricultural industry and our daily lives. It has changed the way we provide food, fuel, and fiber to our consumers.
It is planting time in the Midwest and there were some major concerns about getting the needed supplies to get the crop in the ground. I am happy to say that has not become a major issue. The supplies from seed to chemicals to fertilizer still arrived through the dedication of the people within our industry. The biggest impact has been on the demand side of the business.
Due to less people all around the world traveling and over supply of crude, the ethanol market has taken a major hit. Many of the ethanol plants from the smallest ones to the largest have entered a time of extended shutdowns. The livestock industry took a major hit. There are fewer people eating out and the high value cuts of meat are not being eaten at home. Also, as people have taken a tremendous financial hit from Covid19, they are spending less money on high value cuts. Think of this, how much less milk gets consumed when schools are not in session. I have neighbors that are milking cows just to dump the milk on fields.
Then the biggest impact that has happened in the past couple weeks is the shut down of packing facilities. Right or wrong, our meat packing industry has become very integrated with fewer players and larger facilities. In the Midwest, there have been some major Covid19 outbreaks among employees at these facilities. This has led to shutdowns and reduced slaughters at the major plants. At one point it was reported that 40% of the pork slaughter capacity was shut down. Now the livestock industry has to decide what to do with overweight animals that cannot be slaughtered because there are physically no systems in place that can handle them. Many producers are giving away market animals to anybody that will take them so they do not have to euthanize them. In the past week, supermarkets are starting to ration or limit the amount of meat a customer can purchase. On our operation, we sell freezer beef or beef directly to consumers. My phone has been ringing constantly for people wanting to buy beef. The problem is local lockers or processors are inundated with demand. I had one facility tell me it would be February of 2021 before they would have room to process any more beef. All of these were unforeseen circumstances of the virus and the shutdowns that have occurred. The financial losses within agriculture are staggering, but are they any worse than the restaurant or airline industries?
One thing I am sure of, we will continue to produce safe, high quality food for our consumers. The question is will the consumer preference change post Covid19? Will people not travel as much, in turn affecting the ethanol demand? Will people not eat out as much? What about land prices? My concern for the agricultural industry is not in the next few months or year. My concern is long term. We pride ourselves on producing cheap and safe food. Is that going to be enough for the future or do we need to be expanding our markets and the products that we produce to ensure we are more diversified? In order to become larger and more efficient, agriculture has been very specialized. Is a virus going to change the way we provide food, fuel, and fiber to the world?
Cases on May 15, 2020: 1,469,307
Cases/Million population: 4,442
Nigeria – Chibuike Emmanuel
A lot depends on where the farmer works from. If they are in locked down cities like Lagos and Abuja they may not be able to move easily. Even though farming is an essential service so exempt by the government, the law enforcement agencies sometimes have a funny way of understanding directives and will still hinder farmers especially with regards to movement. We have had a couple of fatalities in some cities where trigger happy security agents killed some people, so most farmers are avoiding such confrontation. Some farmer friends in a nearby state said they were harassed by security personnel on their way to their farms so this will definitely lead to a drop in output. To move around also, essential workers need work IDs. Most farmers being smallholder never needed this and were caught unaware during this coronavirus outbreak so this will also hamper their movement and hence productivity.
If the farmer lives and farms in the suburbs or peri-urban settings it won’t affect him/her much because restrictions are minimal at such locations. A fish farmer friend of mine told me production is booming now as there are no fishes anywhere. They may have a bit of problems though, moving products into the city but that is the duty of middle men so that should be off their shoulders. For rural farmers, some probably don’t know that there is a Covid-19 outbreak as the infection is still tucked in the cities. Challenge is that most of their products get into the cities and will then most likely spoil because of lack of movement.
All in all, there should be a boom for the farming sector especially if the lock down continues as increasingly more people will run out of stock and need supplies. My fear is that farmers that can’t preserve what they grow will be the biggest losers–and those are many here. Another snare for farmers is that most open markets which take up these farm produce are closed and when sparsely open, run for only a few hours. On the other hand, for the farmers who can preserve their products they can easily supply groceries, supermarkets and food shops, which are generally open at this time because they are essential.
In the meantime food prices are skyrocketing even though most of that money for now is being taken by the middle men not necessarily the farmers. Gratefully there has been a surge in innovations at this time to help farmers. For instance in my city, Port Harcourt, The Farmers Community operated by the Creative Hub is working hard to launch Farm mall to link more farmers to consumers at this time. On a national and continental levels also, Co creation (cc) Hub is building a platform Needs to helping vendors with delivery of food and medicine in Lagos, Kigali and Nairobi. Farmers are also thinking about ways of planting crops with short span growth cycles such as vegetables to supply within their immediate communities.
In sum as palliative packages both at the federal and State levels mount most of these will be for food. With imports, if any being, at the lowest ebb now, farmers will definitely come to the rescue. The major challenge will be fixing the supply value chain so that they can proportionately benefit from their services at this time.
Cases on May 15, 2020: 5,162
Cases/Million population: 25
Nigeria – Onyaole Patience Koku
The COVID 19 shut down has led to delays in receiving inputs as shipping delays abound both from within and outside the country. We have banana tissue culture delayed from India, irrigation equipment we shipped from both China and the U.S. which were delayed and some haven’t arrived 2 months later even though it’s to be air freighted.
We were able to get a pass to move even during the tight restriction to start preparing but this was not the case for most farmers. Luckily though we are still within the planting window and so we hope to still be on schedule and so haven’t changed our production plan yet for this year of maize, BT cotton and banana.
We anticipate a challenging season ahead for most farmers. Nigeria imports most of its agricultural inputs: seed, herbicides, insecticides and even fertilizers. Delays in shipping will lead to price hikes and possible scarcity whilst the lockdown nationally is causing distribution delays and challenges for farmers.
Cases on May 15, 2020: 5,162
Cases/Million population: 25
Mexico – Gina Gutierrez
Sales have gone up. People are buying more milk, maybe due to the fact that it hasn’t been short on supply. It’s cheap and kids are still in the house. Prices remain for us, sadly, but retailers have increased their profits on food purchases as other sales have gone down.
We’ve mostly been affected by the increase on the exchange rate on the US dollar, so our inputs are far more expensive, making our margins smaller or non-existent some weeks.
People in the farm are healthy and we are constantly reminding them of the danger of not following hygiene and to remember physical distancing. We provide viricide gel on their way in and out of the farm and masks when their tasks require more contact, like inside the milking parlour.
Cases on May 15, 2020: 42,595
Cases/Million population: 331
Burkina Faso – Wiledio Naboho
In Burkina Faso, some activities have opened, like transportation, some schools and churches. But this pandemic has negatively impacted seed prices; increased food prices also. We’re about to start our growing season.
Cases on May 15, 2020: 773
Cases/Million population: 37
New Zealand – Stuart Taylor
New Zealand is out of lockdown starting May 18th. Meat prices dropped as no processors are available. Milk prices are holding. Feed prices nearly doubled for 3 weeks but are coming back into line now.
Cases on May 15, 2020: 1,498
Cases/Million population: 311