The effects of Coronavirus are reshaping the world. The pandemic is not only challenging the capacity of our healthcare systems, but also our ability to keep supplies running to ensure food sovereignty. Authorities around the world say there won’t be any food shortages, and that governments will support growers. But many countries are considering closing food markets due to the risk of transmission, causing uncertainty for local markets.
In the US amid the outbreak, authorities have decided to leave the decision to the local governments. Initially, some cities like Seattle decided to cancel events like farmer’s markets, but quickly reversed their decision due to petition from farmers and the general public. The California Department of Food and Agriculture issued a guidance for farmer’s markets, which included spacing booths accordingly, limiting the number of customers, encouraging pre-bagging and increasing the frequency of cleaning surfaces.
Other countries like Chile, Australia, France and Italy consider farmer´s markets to be an essential service that provides fresh and healthy food to those that need it the most. With the right precautions, these markets can have a key role in the community food resilience. The main issue here is the looming risk of closure, like in Puebla (México) and San Salvador (El Salvador), were some markets are expected to close. As challenging as it looks, this could be an opportunity to change the way growers reach consumers.
A guidance for producers, published in the Purdue University, offers ideas to farmers to deal with uncertain times. For instance, farmers could start selling online or through the phone in order to reach consumers while reducing the potential exposure to the COVID-19. Changing the business model incorporating delivery systems, managing inventory and adjusting crop scheduling could help meeting market needs. Even social media can become a tool on these circumstances.
“If the country doesn’t produce, the city doesn’t eat” said Eduardo Idrovo, who worked for many years in AgroAzuay, an Ecuadorian governmental institution that helps local growers. He comments that the ‘Canasta popular’, an online food delivery which he promoted, is “helping greatly with the effects of Coronavirus” and that “with the help of the central government, and the local administrations the food supply will be assured for the city”.
Regarding the regional markets, he expressed his concern. “The floricultural sector, for instance, has stopped producing, they’re having problems to keep it running, they need to reduce personnel (…)”. However, he sees an opportunity for the agri-business to strengthen, if it can, “promote, through the central government, the consumption of local food, the consumption of what we grow.” Also, he states that this could mean “implementing new projects and management models that guarantee the production and the diversification of agricultural production”.
Considering the prospect of farmers not reaching consumers or markets, there will be a strong need for government intervention to keep the food supplies strong. In spite of the future challenges, this could be an opportunity to innovate our food supplies and increase support for local growers.
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