THE IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON THE FOOD AND AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY
Agriculture has been a cornerstone of civilisation since time immemorial. As man’s nomadic habits developed into a sedentary lifestyle, it has facilitated the trade and prosperity links that have enabled us to evolve.
With the passage of time, globalisation and international trade meant that communities with an excess yield could export their goods to others in which there were food production shortages.
However, the very foundations of the food and agriculture economy have recently been challenged. The Coronavirus (Covid-19) has, to a certain degree, taken us back to pre-globalisation isolation conditions and it has highlighted more than ever before the importance of agricultural engineering, sustainable production and robust supply chains. Whilst it is still too early to discern the long-term economic impact of this situation, a number of effects and trends that suggest there will be changes in the long term have been perceived.
In the first instance, the cost of transporting goods, including food, has increased significantly since there is no financially-viable return option that is comparable with pre-Covid conditions. This, in conjunction with border controls and safety protocols, seem to favour local or national food distribution systems, opening up an entire new chapter in the debate on self-sufficiency. For example, an adapted supply chain in which a number of food and agriculture companies make just-in-time deliveries of perishable goods has evolved in the United Kingdom as a result of Coronavirus.
Secondly, the fact that people living in rural communities are unable to travel to larger shopping precincts (shopping centres, large supermarkets and so on) has fostered local trade. Small and medium-sized local producers are now key players in the purchase and distribution of foodstuffs.
In addition, there is a fear that accelerating hygiene and automation measures is both premature and has caught us off guard. This is likely to end up leading to shortages in certain yields. Up until now, harvests have been collected by temporary employees from abroad. The current situation means that they are now unable to travel. By way of example, in the Castilla La Mancha region of Spain, 80% of harvests were collected by migrant workers from abroad.
Certain countries with extreme climates or conditions that do not favour agriculture have, until now, needed to import food from other locations. One potential alternative is the use of hydroponics and greenhouses with advanced technology. In addition to increasing cultivation density, these systems can be used to control everything from the atmospheric temperature through to plant nutrition. This means bypassing climate borders and ensuring self-sufficient food supply should the food supply chain continue to be affected by the impact of Covid-19 or other challenges in the future.
In addition to being relatively easy to assemble, with no need for on-the-ground qualified technical staff, our hydroponic systems are a financially-viable and versatile solution for farmers who wish to get one step ahead of all these changes and make the transition from soil to hydroponic cultivation.
Whilst the importance of agricultural engineering has never been challenged, in these uncertain times, investments in R&D and projects that entail interventions by personnel from abroad are starting to suffer. Covid-19 has challenged the robustness of a supply chain that has always been understood to be safe and untouchable. It has, indeed, become a catalyst for the changes to come. We will face adversity with renewed imagination, organisation, use and distribution of our endeavours, as we have done before when we have been confronted by pandemics and challenging times.
Last of all, it should be pointed out that the essence here is not purely financial gain but preservation of what we hold most dear: life itself. A balanced diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables is intrinsically linked to our health. The food chain has always been key but now, more than ever, we need it to be robust and independent. It is the only way for us to overcome the virus.