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COVID-19 affects the global food system

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says the deadly COVID-19 or Corona Virus will have serious implications now and in the future for food production, agricultural supply chains and markets.

In a report released recently, FAO stressed that the food supply chain is a complex web that involves producers, agricultural inputs, transportation, processing plants and shipping, therefore as the virus spreads and cases mount, and measures tighten to curb the spread of the virus, there are countless ways the global food system will be tested and strained in the coming weeks and months.

As of now, disruptions are minimal as food supply has been adequate and markets have been stable so far. Global cereal stocks are at comfortable levels and the outlook for wheat and other major staple crops for 2020 is positive. Although less food production of high value commodities (i.e. fruits and vegetables) is already likely, they are not as yet noticeable because of the lockdowns and disruption in the value chain.

‘’We are already seeing, however, challenges in terms of the logistics involving the movement of food (not being able to move food from point A to point B) and the pandemic’s impact in the livestock sector due to reduced access to animal feeds and slaughterhouses’ diminished capacity (due to logistical constraints and labour shortages) similar to what happened in China,’’ the report said. As a result of the above, FAO expects the months of April and May to see disruptions in the food supply chains.

Furthermore, the report indicated that blockages to transport routes are particularly obstructive for fresh food supply chains and may also result in increased levels of food loss and waste. Transport restrictions and quarantine measures are likely to impede farmers’ access to markets, curbing their productive capacities and hindering them from selling their produce.

‘’Shortages of labour could disrupt production and processing of food, notably for labour-intensive crops. Spikes in prices are not expected in major staples where there is supply, stocks, and production is capital intensive, but are more likely for high value commodities especially meat in the very short term and perishable commodities,’’ it said.

FAO further stressed that developing countries in Africa are particularly at risk as the disease can lead to a reduction in labour force, and affect labour intensive forms of production (agriculture) but also because most of the food crisis countries are in Sub-Saharan Africa. ‘‘We know that it will eventually retreat, but we don’t know how fast this will happen. We also know that this shock is somewhat unusual as it affects significant elements of both food supply and demand.

Supply will be disrupted due to the disease’s impact on people’s lives and well-being, but also the containment efforts that restrict mobility and the higher costs of doing business due to restricted supply chains and a tightening of credit. Demand will also fall due to higher uncertainty, increased precautionary behaviour, containment efforts, and rising financial costs that reduce people’s ability to spend,’’ FAO said in its report.

FAO noted that the 2008 financial crisis showed what can happen when reduced income and uncertainty make people spend less and result in shrinking demand. “Sales declined. So did production. At the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a significant increase in demand. Food demand is generally inelastic and its effect on overall consumption will be likely limited, although dietary patterns may alter,” indicated the report.

“There is a possibility of a disproportionately larger decline in meat consumption (as a result of fears – not science-based – that animals might be hosts of the virus) and other higher-value products like fruits and vegetables (which are likely to cause price slumps).”
Food demand in poorer countries is more linked to income and here, loss of income-earning opportunities could impact on consumption. Fear of contagion can translate in reduced visits to food markets, and we expect to see a shift in how people buy and consume food – lower restaurant traffic, increased e-commerce deliveries (as evidenced in China), and a rise in eating at home.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has had several sources of effects over the global economy. First, FAO noted that markets are more integrated and interlinked, with the Chinese economy which contributes 16 percent to the global gross domestic product. Thus, any shock that affects China now has far greater consequences for the world economy.

Second, the group reported that the supply shocks due to morbidity and mortality, but also the containment efforts that restrict mobility and higher costs of doing business due to restricted supply chains and a tightening of credit will affect economies leading to a reduction of economic growth. In March, the OECD cut its forecast for global economic growth in 2020 from 2.9 percent to 2.4 percent, which would be the lowest level since the financial crisis a decade ago, warning that a prolonged and more intensive coronavirus epidemic could even halve this figure to a mere 1.5 percent.

FAO reported that the demand will also fall due to higher uncertainty, increased precautionary behaviour, containment efforts, and rising financial costs that reduce the ability to spend. Finally, there is a significant devaluation of the exchange rate with respect to the US dollar, which will also affect the import dependent countries.

“Global food markets are not immune to these developments. However, they are likely to be less affected than other sectors that are more exposed to logistical disruptions and weakened demand, such as travel, manufacturing and energy markets. But given the complexity of the food value chains and the importance of trade and transportation, these could make them extremely vulnerable,’’ the report said.

While COVID-19 likely represents a deflationary shock for the global economy, reflected in early moves by the FAO Food Price Index, in the short term the real cost of a healthy diet may rise because of the increase in the cost of perishable commodities, which would have a particularly adverse impact on lower-income households and raise the price of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

This effect as shown in 2019 in The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, will most importantly be in countries with high commodity-import dependence. Here, the negative effect is stronger, as a one percent increase in commodity-import dependence causes an average increase in undernourishment of 3.8 percent per year. When the country is food-import dependent, there is an average increase in undernourishment of 8% per year. Furthermore, the demand shock will contribute to prolonging and worsening the effect.

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Veteran journalist Karima Brown succumbs to COVID-19

4th March 2021
Karima-Brown

South Africa’s veteran journalist and broadcaster, Karima Brown has died on Thursday morning from COVID-19 related complications.

Media reports from the neighbouring country say Brown had been hospitalized and on a ventilator.

Brown anchored eNCA’s The Fix and was a regular political analyst on the eNCA channel.

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Botswana imports in numbers

1st March 2021
Botswana-imports

For so many years, Botswana has been trying to be a self-sufficient country that is able to provide its citizens with locally produced food products. Through appropriate collaborations with parastatals such as CEDA, ISPAAD and LEA, government introduced initiatives such as the Horticulture Impact Accelerator Subsidy-IAS and other funding facilities to facilitate horticultural farmers to increase production levels.

Now that COVID-19 took over and disrupted the food value chain across all economies, Botswana government introduced these initiatives to reduce the import bill by enhancing local market and relieve horticultural farmers from loses or impacts associated with the pandemic.

In more concerted efforts to curb these food crises in the country, government extended the ploughing period for the Southern part of Botswana. The extension was due to the late start of rains in the Southern part of the country.

Last week the Ministry of Agriculture extended the ploughing period for the Northern part of the country, mainly because of rains recently experienced in the country. With these decisions taken urgently, government optimizes food security and reliance on local food production.

When pigs fly, Botswana will be able to produce food to feed its people. This is evident by the numbers released by Statistics Botswana on imports recorded in November 2020, on their International Merchandise Trade Statistics for the month under review.

The numbers say Botswana continues to import most of its food from neighbouring South Africa. Not only that, Batswana relies on South Africa to have something to smoke, to drink and even use as machinery.

According to data from Statistics Botswana, the country’s total imports amounted to P6.881 Million. Diamonds contributed to the total imports at 33%, which is equivalent to P2.3 Million. This was followed by food, beverages and tobacco, machinery and electrical equipment which stood at P912 Million and P790 Million respectively.

Most of these commodities were imported from The Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The Union supplied Botswana with imports valued at over P4.8 Million of Botswana’s imports for the month under review (November 2020). The top most imported commodity group from SACU region was food, beverages and tobacco, with a contribution of P864 Million, which is likely to be around 18.1% of the total imports from the region.

Diamonds and fuel, according to these statistics, contributed 16.0%, or P766 Million and 13.5% or P645 Million respectively. Botswana also showed a strong and desperate reliance on neighbouring South Africa for important commodities. Even though the borders between the two countries in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, government took a decision to open border gates for essential services which included the transportation of commodities such as food.

Imports from South Africa recorded in November 2020 stood at P4.615 Million, which accounted for 67.1% of total imports during the month under review. Still from that country, Botswana bought food, beverages and tobacco worth P844 Million (18.3%), diamonds, machinery and fuel worth P758 Million, P601 Million and P562 Million respectively.

Botswana also imported chemicals and rubber products that made a contribution of 11.7% (P542.2 Million) to total imports from South Africa during the month under review, (November 2020).

The European Union also came to Botswana’s rescue in the previous year. Botswana received imports worth P698.3 Million from the EU, accounting for 10.1% of the total imports during the same month. The major group commodity imported from the EU was diamonds, accounting for 86.9% (P606.6 Million), of imports from the Union. Belgium was the major source of imports from the EU, at 8.9% (P609.1 Million) of total imports during the period under review.

Meanwhile, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Thapelo Matsheka says an improvement in exports and commodity prices will drive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Growth in the region is anticipated to recover modestly to 3.2% in 2021. Matsheka said this when delivering the Annual Budget Speech virtually in Gaborone on the 1st of February 2021.

He said implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which became operational in January 2021, could reduce the region’s vulnerability to global disruptions, as well as deepen trade and economic integration.

“This could also help boost competition and productivity. Successful implementation of AfCFTA will, of necessity, require Member States to eliminate both tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and generally make it easier to do business and invest across borders.”

Matsheka, who is also a Member of Parliament for Lobatse, an ailing town which houses the struggling biggest meat processing company in the country- Botswana Meat Commission, (BMC), said the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) recognizes the need to prioritize the key processes required for the implementation of the AfCFTA.

“The revised SACU Tariff Offer, which comprises 5,988 product lines with agreed Rules of Origin, representing 77% of the SACU Tariff Book, was submitted to the African Union Commission (AUC) in November 2020. The government is in the process of evaluating the tariff offers of other AfCFTA members prior to ratification, following which Botswana’s participation in AfCFTA will come to effect.”

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Sheila Tlou: On why women don’t get votes

1st March 2021
Sheila Tlou

BARAPEDI KEDIKILWE

Women continue to shadow men in politics – stereotypes such as ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ cast the notion that women cannot lead. The 2019 general election recorded one of Botswana’s worst performances when it comes to women participation in parliamentary democracy with only three women elected to parliament.

Botswana’s former Minister of Health, Professor Sheila Tlou who is currently the Co-Chair, Global HIV Prevention Coalition & Nursing Now and an HIV, Gender & Human Rights Activist is not amused by the status quo. Tlou attributes this dilemma facing women to a number of factors, which she is convinced influence the voting patterns of Batswana when it comes to women politicians.

Professor Tlou plugs the party level voting systems as the first hindrance that blocks women from ascending to power. According to the former Minister of Health, there is inadequate amount of professionalism due to corrupt internal party structures affecting the voters roll and ultimately leading to voter apathy for those who end up struck off the voters rolls under dubious circumstances.

Tlou also stated that women’s campaigns are often clean; whilst men put to play the ‘politics is dirty metaphor using financial muscle to buy voters into voting for them without taking into consideration their abilities and credibility. The biggest hurdle according to Tlou is the fallacy that ‘Women cannot lead’, which is also perpetuated by other women who discourage people from voting for women.

There are numerous factors put on the table when scrutinizing a woman, she can be either too old, or too young, or her marital status can be used against her. An unmarried woman is labelled as a failure and questioned on how she intends on being a leader when she failed to have a home. The list is endless including slut shaming women who have either been through a divorce or on to their second marriages, Tlou observed.

The only way that voters can be emancipated from this mentality according to Tlou is through a robust voter education campaign tailor made to run continuously and not be left to the eve of elections as it is usually done. She further stated that the current crop of women in parliament must show case their abilities and magnify them – this will help make it clear that they too are worthy of votes.

And to women intending to run for office, Tlou encouraged them not to wait for the eleventh hour to show their interest and rather start in community mobilisation projects as early as possible so that the constituents can get to know them and their abilities prior to the election date.

Youthful Botswana National Front (BNF) leader and feminist, Resego Kgosidintsi blames women’s mentality towards one another which emanates from the fact that women have been socialised from a tender age that they cannot be leaders hence they find it difficult to vote for each other.

Kgosidintsi further states that, “Women do not have enough economic resources to stage effective campaigns. They are deemed as the natural care givers and would rather divert their funds towards raising children and building homes over buying campaign materials.”

Meanwhile, Vice President of the Alliance for Progressives (AP), Wynter Mmolotsi agrees that women’s participation in politics in Botswana remains a challenge. To address this Mmolotsi suggested that there should be constituencies reserved for women candidates only so that the outcome regardless of the party should deliver a woman Member of Parliament.

Mmolotsi further suggested that Botswana should ditch the First Past the Post system of election and opt for the proportional representation where contesting parties will dutifully list able women as their representatives in parliament.

On why women do not get elected, Mmolotsi explained that he had heard first hand from voters that they are reluctant to vote for women since they have limited access to them once they have won; unlike their male counterparts who have proven to be available night or day.

The pre-historic awarding of gender roles relegating women to be pregnant and barefoot at home and the man to be out there fending for the family has disadvantaged women in political and other professional careers.

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