COVID-19 impacts on Global Food Supply, Production and Transportation

22 October 2020

COVID-19 impacts on Global Food Supply, Production and Transportation

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unparalleled strain and restrictions on global food supply chains, with constraints in farm labour, processing, transport, and logistics, as well as significant shifts in consumer’s demands. While the impacts of COVID-19 are still unfolding, experience so far shows the importance of an open and predictable international trade environment to ensure food can move to where it is needed. The biggest risk for food security is not with food availability but with consumers’ access to food: safety nets are essential to avoid an increase in hunger and food insecurity.

The food supply chain starts with the production of vegetables, fresh fruit, meats, seafood, grains, and pulses. Farm production has been affected by labour blockages. Some farming sectors are more dependent on labour than others: fruits and vegetables are more labour-intensive and require more physical labour, while cereals and pulses typically require less labour. Limits on the mobility of people due to widespread lockdowns have reduced the availability of seasonal workers for planting and harvesting in the fruit and vegetable sector in many countries across the globe. In addition to an active workforce, primary producers need essential resources and inputs that include; energy, fertilisers, seeds and veterinary medicines, shortages of these important products will affect the future output and production of crops.

Processing and transportation disruptions due to labour shortages and shutdowns

Restrictions have inevitably led to many disruptions in the food processing industry, which have been affected by rules on social distancing, shortages in labour due to sickness, and by lockdown, measures to contain the spread of the virus. In confined spaces in processing and packing plants for fruits and vegetables or meat processing facilities, necessary social distancing measures for the protection of employees were found to reduce the efficiency of operations.

Restricted transport and logistics have disrupted the movement of products along supply chains. Agricultural and food products are transported using three main modes of transport: bulk (ships and barges) which have experienced minimal disruption; containers (by boat, rail or truck) and other road transport; and air freight. Airfreight especially has been severely impacted, which is due to the steep decline in passenger air travel. Different products use different modes of transport: cereals and pulses, for example, are typically shipped in bulk; meat and dairy products are often shipped in refrigerated containers and trucks, and perishable products with a high value-to-weight ratio are transported by air. The fruits and vegetable sector is also affected by quarantine measures and delays in border inspections. In contrast, cereal supplies have not faced major disruptions: bulk transport has been less affected by restrictions, and cereals can be loaded, shipped, and handled using less labour.

Since COVID-19, more laboratories have seen significant delays in producing certificates of analysis for shipments (vital for food safety), with shipping lines rescheduling to meet new demands and, in some instances, lack of demand. Courier companies are taking longer to obtain original documents needed in some parts of the world, resulting in Governments having to accept scanned copies.

Future-proofing the supply chain for future pandemics

Even before COVID-19, food supply chains have been in a transformation phase. Supply chains need to become more resilient, agile, and flexible to cope with supply and demand surprises, and new technology and data platforms can help prepare for future disruption. Consumers are increasingly seeking information and data on where and how their food has been produced – this is known as food traceability. Food traceability refers to the systems and ability to trace the movement of food and ingredients through the whole food supply chain, from raw materials, through production, processing, and distribution, which makes it possible to locate a product at any stage of the food supply chain. It’s very important to maximise efficiency and this becomes even more vital in the case of transport delays or contamination tracing. Various technologies and methods are currently being used to trace ingredients, including simple printed stickers, stamps, and leading-edge blockchain technologies. An adequate system that transmits accurate, consistent, and complete product information can also decrease operating costs, increase cash flow, augment productivity and efficiencies, and offer opportunities to differentiate products and safeguard brands. These systems can give producers, suppliers, distributors, retailers and consumers access to trusted information regarding the origin and state of each product or ingredient. Creating intelligent and quick supply chains is the key to building a global trade and supply network capable of withstanding future pandemics and crises.

Get in touch with our visionary team today to future-proof your food supply chain.