Since the first reported case in December 2019, COVID-19 has infected 29 million people and caused 930,000 deaths globally. COVID-19 strongly impacts on agriculture, food, and health systems and hits hard on industries and all people participating in economic activities. To mitigate and alleviate the negative impacts, measures and possible approaches have been proposed to ensure national and global food and health security, particularly for the populations at high risks,. However, before the COVID-19 pandemic could be controlled through safe and effective vaccination, the restrictions on cross- and within-border movement of people and goods may likely continue to apply in most of its affected areas. Travel restrictions and social distancing have interfered and restricted smallholder famers, agrobusiness laborers, factory and front-line workers in their farming and economic activities. These have led to unstable supply or shortage of basic goods such as foods and health-protective products. On the other hand, “panic buying” by consumers rushing to local and supermarkets happened at the beginning of the outbreak and worsened food supply chains and stability. Recently, the purchasing behavior via e-commerce channel became more common. The e-commerce service shortens supply chain and connects consumers directly to suppliers (retailers, wholesalers, food processors and farmers) that help to stabilize production and distribution activities. Applying digital and automatic operation system and e-commerce in agriculture and food systems are examples of technologies that could mitigate the COVID-19 impacts, help recovery, and build resilience. In this proposal, FFTC intends to invite key stakeholders in agriculture and food systems from the Asian and Pacific Region as well as Germany to share their country responses to COVID-19 and the potential agricultural technologies that could help recover and build resilience of food systems for attaining sustainable food security in the Asian and Pacific Region.
The two half-day online policy forum consisted of an opening ceremony delivered by partner institutes, two keynote speeches, and three sessions with a total of 12 presentations (10 min each) of country reports, followed by 30 minutes of panel discussion at the end of each session. The general discussion in the last session aims to propose response and action plan to the COVID-19 pandemic from policy framework and technological review. Invited participants to the Webex virtual meeting room include speakers, moderators, panelists, and FFTC-AP contracted partners. The forum online registers were guided to the FFTC Facebook website where they can watch the livestream broadcast and interact with speakers through typed-in messages. This report highlights the major takeaways with key technologies, approaches and suggestions presented by session speakers as well as in the general discussion.
Key takeaways (technologies/ approaches/ suggestions)
- The ASEAN and India are the promising regions in the world with great business and economic opportunities and potential, despite being badly hit by COVID-19. Taiwan, with its New Southbound Policy (NSP), can help to strengthen the resilience and facilitate the recovery of agriculture value chain activities with its neighboring countries by sharing precision Agriculture 4.0 technologies. With increasing consumer awareness of high-quality product and service, Taiwan can enhance its close ties with global economy by using NSP as an initiation step in the Asian and Pacific region (Dr. Tai Wei Lim, Singapore).
- Lock-down policy during March and May, as a response to COVID-19, has already transformed economic activities in Germany. Only shops providing food are allowed for business operation. Despite the growing revenue in food sector and consumer demand for agriculture products, the cost for agricultural management is increasing due to hygiene requirement and low harvest, especially perishable fruits and vegetables. While online shopping and eating-at-home seemingly indicate the “new normal” of German people, whether the following 2nd lock-down policy in November 2020 could witness similar trend of food and agricultural sectors in the previous lock-down period is worthy to be studied. (Dr. Axel Wolz, Germany)
Session 1: (4 country reports from US-EU/ Korea/ Malaysia/ Germany)
- Based on the collected statistics on dairy, meat, fruits, vegetables, and wine industries, agriculture and food markets in the USA and EU evolved under the influence of COVID-19 pandemic, where there was an overview of general regulations and mitigations. Besides the joint force of public and private sectors, identifying irreversible and permanent changes in agriculture and food markets during the pandemic and post-pandemic period, has been seen as helpful to facilitate coordination among market channels. The new normal such as e-commerce and food delivery service may continue and take root in people’s daily lives after the pandemic. (Dr. Shuay-Tsyr Ho, Taiwan)
- The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the purchase behavior into online shopping in agri-food and service sectors. This trend also raises consumers’ concerns about food safety and environment protection. The government was suggested to provide solid support to food safety, environment protection and e-commerce platform in this time of pandemic. Compared to the strong demand for retailer markets, the wholesaler should have adaptive minds for sustainable management under the pandemic, i.e. conversion from logistic center to consumption spots. (Dr. Seong-hyuk Hwang, Korea)
- The shut-down of agriculture food supply chain, by the initial MCO (Movement Control Order) and later CMCO (Conditional Movement Control Order), has disrupted 91% of market channels to agricultural products and caused the decline of price and income. However, producers have used the e-commerce platform as an alternative way to consumers and the return of selling price (31.3%) was observed in the later CMCO. Financial packages to assist producers achieving the minimum production yield and promotion of digital technology, in line with Industrial Revolution 4.0 policy, are encouraged to strengthen the resilience and sustainability of agriculture value chain in Malaysia. (Dr. Hairuddin Mohd Amir, Malaysia)
- COVID-19 pandemic affects mostly pig meat slaughterhouses and processing factories, in which the resulting over-supply of live animals directly caused the price decline at 12% in Germany. By coping with the COVID-19 infection risks on labors, the temporary closure of slaughterhouses or adjusted process at production line led to the economic pressure onto pig farmers for extending the feeding period. The discovery of African Swine Fever (ASF) on wild boars further drove down the pig price by extra 13% and deteriorated the export market competitiveness of Germany’s pig meat sector. Currently, there is no strategy available for mitigating the export difficulties and limited processing capacities. (Dr. Johannes Simons, Germany)
- The COVID-19 outbreak led to a global economic downturn, while the agriculture sector in Taiwan performed relatively better than in other regions. Based on the previous management experience against pandemics such as SARS, H1N1 and HMD etc., the COVID-19 pandemic did limited impacts to Taiwan due to its efficient and quick response mechanism. On condition of stable control over COVID-19, the Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan of Taiwan launched series of policies, including bailout, revitalization, and agricultural tourism etc., to maintain agricultural economic activities and ensure farmers’ revenue during this COVID-19 pandemic. (Dr. Wei-Chun Tseng, Taiwan)
- COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP) is an action plan by the Government of Myanmar, through solidifying the health sector, to mitigate the economic impacts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The key stakeholders include farmers, seed producers, agri-processors, and agri-business owners, supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI) under the plan. Sound policies and programs focusing on resilient and diverse food systems are necessary ways for increasing food production capacity, strengthening food reserves, and improving food logistic system in Myanmar. (Dr. Thanda Kyi, Myanmar)
- The GALING-PCAARRD program aims to alleviate COVID-19 impacts in the Philippines through technology-information sharing, food products distribution, and provision of food production technologies and livelihood opportunities. This program, with its diverse package content and channels, reaches widely to the general public, government units, various players of agriculture value chain, and researcher & policy makers. This program is also in line with the “Bayanihan Act,” which authorizes the President to combat the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure food security in the Philippines. (Dr. Ernest O. Brown, Philippines)
- The Malaysian government has already initiated strategies and action plans to ensure national food security and strengthen food supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic. Packages such as Economic Stimulus Package (PRE) providing cash handouts, or actions by leveraging e-commerce, strengthening storage, and financial supports were conducted. Private sectors were inquired to be joint force to reduce distribution of domestic food supply chain and ensure trade line open. (Mr. Khairul Fithri Abdul, Malaysia)
- By contextual analysis, document reports, and quick survey, the government can identify the priority areas for policy intervention to mitigate risks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than receiving insurances, households and rural communities in Vietnam mostly coped with this pandemic shock on their own by reducing spending and using saving. However, the households had optimistic attitudes toward the post-pandemic and are expected to prepare for upward production scale and plan for more off-farm job opportunities. Government support in forms of financial provisions, such as tax exemptions, preferential loans, or agricultural input material supports etc., are expected for a resilient livelihood. (Dr. Tran Cong Thang, Vietnam)
- Food industry in Japan confronts potential shrinkage risks due to decreased domestic consumption and labor shortages, leading to the development of reliance on the tourists visiting and introduction of foreign labor. The occurrence of COVID-19 clouds the plans of the Japanese food industry sectors under the led policy in stimulating international travels into Japan, including the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Currently, various emergency subsidies and programs have already been delivered to enterprises, households, and businesses of food services and tourism. Identifying and distinguishing the short- and long-term effects on the food industry is critical for intervention policy implementation and resilience action plans. (Dr. Yoshihisa Godo, Japan)
- The COVID-19 has inevitably caused economic recession in purchasing power, food producing business, logistics and agri-food value chain. For farmers with a better transportation tool and communication network, the revenue is increasing with the transition of consumer behavior. Digitalizing agri-food value chain by utilizing the digital platform / ICT would contribute to local food development and food diversification. Recommended policy options include social protection improvement, non-cash food subsidy, and food for work. (Dr. Bustanul Arifin, Indonesia)
- The COVID-19 pandemic brought the positive impacts to accelerate the adoption of digital agriculture tools and skills, offsetting the impacts by the lockdown policy and labor shortage. The structure of fresh food sector could have been empowered by innovating infrastructure in production system, cold chain, and service & business process. In addition, a comprehensive adoption of automation, robot, mechanization, and IoT-based food security regulation & digital traceability is associated with the COVID-19 related awareness in the general public. (Dr. Jyh-Rong Tsay, Taiwan)
FFTC Director, Dr. Su-San Chang, moderated the discussion and reviewed and identified potential innovative technologies and services for capacity development of small holder farmers and build resilience of country food systems, contributed by 6 panelists for sharing their thoughts specific to the topics:
(I) The policy framework of regional cooperation for a sustainable and resilient agri-food system under and post the COVID-19 pandemic
(II) Identify technologies and skills to sustain the management and operation of agri-food system
(III) Roles of government, private sector, and farmers in strengthening the resilience of agri-food value chain
The response from each panelist is briefly summarized below:
Dr. Orachos Napasintuwong (Kasetsart University, Thailand) –
Based on the consumer behavior change and new shopping patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic, the priority policy should consider how to improve trade by standardizing procedure, supporting logistic delivery system of perishable goods, and improving farmers accessibility to internet. The key to maximize PPP-based program efficiency is to ensure in advance the solid concept and knowledge of the recipients, especially farmers.
Dr. Chang-gil Kim (Seoul National University, Korea) –
Platforms of online transaction on agri-food wholesale and labor match - making contribute to extend the operation and management in the agricultural sector, despite the shock and interruption brought by COVID-19. The joint force from the Korean government, public institutes, and farmers provide solid supports to the platforms as a typical successful example of PPP driven program. Promotion of digital agriculture (Information and Communication Technologies, ICTs) to wider agricultural stakeholders, especially in extension advisory system, could add resilience to the agri-food system.
Dr. Hung-Hao Chang (National Taiwan University, Taiwan) –
The promotion of digitized agriculture emphasizes the interaction between digitization and farm labors. The rights and benefits of those aged farm labors should be considered in the pandemic under the program of economic recovery. The fact that upward trend in sales volume and food delivery service in Taiwan, in the absence of lock down, suggests the change of consumer behavior is happening. The scope of safety net program is recommended to integrate farmers’ health and quality-based production, compared to indicators of farmers’ income and yield quantity.
Dr. Mikitaro Shobayashi (Gakushuin Women’s College, Japan) –
The budget support should be planned, based on regulation of financial balance, to the mostly impacted community and farmers in the short- and long-term, respectively. Through information and policies sharing promoted by OECD and G20, regional collaboration could have been strengthened and facilitate a reasonable budget proportion of country R&D input to assist small farmers. Broad scale uncertainties from the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change upon agriculture may have been continuing for a certain period. The gradual adoption, rather than immediate acquisition, of new technology (i.e. digital agriculture) may be an ideal way for preserving flexibility.
Dr. Sang-hyo Kim (Korea Rural Economic Institute, Korea) –
Food security addressing the demand-side policy at the household level, ensures the stable access to food, nutrition, and safe agri-products of consumers, especially the low-income communities. The online shopping and delivery services are gaining market share during the COVID-19 pandemic. The food safety will become a more critical issue while the household meals are available mostly from convenient store, food delivery channels, take-out service etc.
Dr. Wu-Huan Shu (Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute, Taiwan) -
The Council of Agriculture, Taiwan, has continuously promoted the top-down digital agriculture policy & strategies to small farmers for capacity building on digital tools. The farmers can still access to useful information via app to adjust farmland activity and management content, when the implementation cost of digital agriculture devices is not affordable yet. The application of drone technology, supplemented by Dr. Su-San Chang, is now available in Taiwan and being as a service sector to farmers on the spray of fertilizers and chemical pesticides.
3.Major Findings and Recommendations from the Event
- Strengthen regional or country-specific capacity of agri-food systems against the pandemics, through ways such as reducing trading barriers and technical operation. These can effectively increase self-sufficiency rate and food security.
- Facilitate farmers production activities, ensure stable supply of agricultural inputs (seed and fertilizers etc.), and keep the border-trade flow through programs of financial supports, loan with low-interest rate, and tax exemption etc.
- Improve cold-chain facilities and logistic distribution capacity. The enhanced hygiene and safety of the processing line laborers also play a key role in the normal operation of supply chain.
- Adapt to the “new normal” consumer behavior of the post-COVID-19 pandemic. This includes e-commerce, higher food safety standard, and option for low-environmental impact products.
- Enhance agri-food warehouse facility, increase staple food production yield, and improve food logistic system aiming for diversifying the agri-food content and adding sustainability.
- Share Taiwan’s experiences and technology of agriculture 4.0 with its neighboring countries to initiate cooperative relationship and contribute to the regional productivity and resilience of agricultural value chain, as a key role to begin a regional cooperative chapter in the Asian and Pacific region through New Southbound Policy (NSP).
 FAO. 2020. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and family farming [online]. Rome.
 APEC. 2020. Food Security Response Measures to COVID-19 Policy Brief. Singapore.