West African mango blockchain – making supply chains more resilient
COLEACP has been working with Société Internationale d’Importation (SIIM) and Belgian start-up BlockO to develop MangoBlockchain, currently in beta version – a tool that is especially relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the resilience of supply chains depends on trust and transparency (Commodafrica, 19 May). A first for the region, MangoBlockchain will contribute to the professionalisation of the West African mango sector, which in recent years has experienced too many interceptions on arrival on the European market. For example, mangoes in the SIIM supply chain in Côte d’Ivoire are individually labelled with a QR code. When scanned by a consumer’s smartphone, the producer’s name, harvest date, packing date and date of entry into the EU are displayed in a supply chain interface. This information is extracted automatically from SIIM’s information systems and stored in the blockchain. The objective for the importer is to be able to provide information to distributors, but also to ensure that it reaches consumers without alteration. The current beta test, in the middle of the mango campaign, will evaluate the added value of the blockchain as a B2B (importers-distributors) and B2C (distributors/importers-consumers) communication tool.
Vincent Omer-Decugis, Managing Director of SIIM and COLEACP Board member, spoke to Commodafrica (19 May) about the impact of COVID-19 on mango consumption in Europe. The majority of exotic fruit products, including mango, have returned to sustained consumption rates. The period of lockdown has led to a shift in consumption patterns, with the closure of hotels, restaurants and open-air markets, and the development of purchasing volumes from mass retail chains and specialised distribution networks. Regarding the scarcity experienced in the early days of restrictive measures, all it takes is for 10% of consumers to buy 20% more of what they are used to buying to create an effect of scarcity. The company has had to reduce its product range as some products were in danger of no longer finding their market, and were also directly affected by supply difficulties.
Air traffic has almost come to a standstill, as exports by air largely use the freight capacity offered by passenger aircraft. However, some passenger aircraft have been transformed into cargo aircraft. With Air France, SIIM was able to transport 400 tonnes of mangoes by plane from Côte d’Ivoire to Europe in April. There are additional costs, but the reduced transport time of air transport enables a top-of-the-range product. Most of the market (over 97%) is supplied by sea freight, with the fruit transported in containers, then ripened in its destination market for an optimal quality/price ratio. The first shipments by sea started at the beginning of April with mangoes from Burkina Faso, and the campaign will run until the end of July with mangoes from Senegal. The impact of COVID-19 has been neutral for shipments from West Africa as far as the consumer is concerned. Production involves social distancing measures in production units and means of transport, and management of travel when curfews are introduced. But production units already had hygiene measures in place, handwashing has always been mandatory, and personnel wear the necessary masks, hats and personal protective equipment, so at that level, everything was already in place.
SIIM has worked with the various governments, with the ministries of agriculture and transport, to get the necessary exemptions to set up green corridors to move food products for export, which are absolutely necessary for the local economy. It is estimated that 1,000 tonnes of mangoes exported generate 1,000 direct jobs and another 1,000 indirect jobs.
Kenya: EU orders rising for some produce but rainfall hits exports
Kenya’s horticulture production is expected to drop in the next month as the sector reels from the effects of heavy rains and diseases that have slowed down production amid rising orders in the European market (Business Daily, 19 May). Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) chief executive Ojepat Okesegere anticipates production to fall by between 20 and 30%. Europe, which is Kenya’s main market, has been easing restrictions as it opens up the economy following months of lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. The shortage of fruit and vegetables in Europe has pushed up demand for Kenya’s horticultural produce, leading to a resumption of orders.
However, Silas Mutuma, Managing Director of herb exporter JamboFresh Kenya, reports that measures to control the spread of the coronavirus have led international buyers to cancel orders and brought exports to a standstill for more than a month (Fresh Plaza, 20 May). Kenya’s herb farmers export most of their produce. Mutuma says that all his international orders have been cancelled and he has exported nothing since March, costing him more than KSH500,000 ($4,700) per month. Of Jambofresh Kenya’s more than 300 workers, all but 50 have been laid off.
Importing tropical fruits from small-scale farms in East Africa
Kipepeo Bio & Fair GmbH offers a selection of tropical fruits from small-scale farming to the German health food trade. Its current challenges in procuring goods from tropical countries, including Uganda and Tanzania, are mainly logistical, with delays and high freight costs (Fresh Plaza, 19 May). Ugandan farmers, despite containment measures, were able to provide a steady supply of goods, such as pineapples and apple-bananas, of the usual good quality. Kipepeo also sells dried fruit from Tanzania, which was particularly well received by consumers at the beginning of the crisis. Following some hoarding at the start, demand has now declined somewhat but remains at a high level. The purchase of goods from Tanzania seems to be working, although truck drivers have to wait two days at the border for a coronavirus test. Kipepeo maintains close personal relationships with its local networks, and hopes that demand for tropical fruits will increase: “Because we are not allowed to travel, by buying pineapple, dragon fruit etc. we can still get a piece of holiday on our plate,” says Kipepo’s Sven Ziegler.
BAM programme extended for Cameroon
The European Union has extended the Banana Accompanying Measures (BAM) programme being implemented in Cameroon by 2 years, to support the banana sector weakened by the COVID-19 health crisis and the security crisis experienced in the country (Food Business Africa, 14 May). The companies concerned will have two more years to complete the actions undertaken to improve the productivity of their plantations and enhance the competitiveness of the sector. The BAM programme in Cameroon aims to modernise banana cultivation by introducing the use of equipment such as generators and irrigation systems. The programme also plans to modernise and extend the fruit terminal of the Port of Douala.
The sale of organic products in Italy increased by +14% between March 2019 and March 2020. According to the market observatory Centro Servizi Ortofrutticoli (CSO), the sale of packaged fruit and vegetables increased by 24%. Over the same period, the price of fruit has increased by an average 9%. The fruits most in demand were kiwis, oranges, lemons and apples, with the corollary of high price growth for these products. For vegetables, there was an average decrease in consumer prices of 5%. According to CSO, containment has changed purchasing habits, with strong growth in one year for supermarkets (+22%), small shops (+29%) and discounters (+14%), but less so for hypermarkets (+4%). Street markets suffered heavy losses in one year (–34%) but fruit and vegetable prices were the highest there, at +7% (Fruchthandel, 15 May).
The street markets, closed since mid-March, reopened on 18 May. The Brussels Wholesale Market (Mabru) had been campaigning to reopen. But during the period of confinement, the wholesale market did not suffer thanks to a strong network of local shops that came to obtain supplies, as well as large-scale distribution. The Market Director says that while wholesalers linked to the out-of-home catering sector suffered a lot, other wholesalers achieved 60 to 70% of their turnover compared to a normal period, and others even recorded increases of 150 to 200%, particularly specialists in exotic products (FLD Hebdo, 19 May).
Since the deconfinement measures announced on 11 May, activity at Rungis wholesale market has increased. The reopening of the markets has enabled traders to return to the wholesale market.
The Syndicat des magasins de primeurs en France announced in a press release before the deconfinement decision of 11 May that even though one-third of the street markets are reopened, only producers are allowed to set up shop. Fruit and vegetable retailers do not have access to the markets, but they have been able to adapt and continue to deliver to their customers at home thanks to orders taken by telephone (Fresh Plaza, 14 May).
Saveurs Commerce, which represents the interests of all French greengrocers (retail, or in indor or open-air markets), has issued an assessment of the current situation. In-store businesses are doing well overall, as consumers favour proximity and small shops, which they find more secure. But market traders are doing less well. While one third of markets have reopened, some are reserved exclusively for producers, whereas they normally also host a lot of shopkeepers. Some have bounced back by developing deliveries of fruit and vegetables directly to consumers, and some will continue this activity in the future, after the crisis, while maintaining market activity. Although the gradual reopening of markets during containment could be possible, as explained by a document, produced in partnership with the Fédération des Marchés de France, listing the conditions for safely maintaining open-air markets, many prefects and mayors are refusing to reopen the markets.
Two new entrepreneurs in the fresh produce trade are remaining positive about the future (Fresh Plaza, 19 May). Bremen-based Nord Frucht Import & Export GmbH reports a doubling of freight costs and corresponding price increases in its first year of trading. In the first weeks of the crisis specifically, there were supply gaps and shortages of goods, but now the market is stabilising. In the medium to long term, the import agency expects to see increased labour and freight costs and further challenges in the market environment, but is hoping for a successful re-launch of the hospitality industry. Nuremberg trader Rahime Berisa started MCR Markthalle LLC at the Nuremberg wholesale market at the start of 2020. “At the beginning of the crisis we felt the effects of the hoarding quite strongly, especially with regard to potatoes and onions. In addition, customers preferred to buy regional produce. Now, the turnover of goods has stabilised to some extent and Spanish, Italian and Dutch products are also being traded in the usual volumes.” While the loss of the catering trade initially caused the loss of 60–70% of sales, within a short time takeaway and delivery services were set up, and now hospitality is set to gradually reopen.
Frank Hensel, Vice President of Handelsverband (the Austrian Retail Association), says that ensuring a sustainable supply of food with regionally produced, high-quality food from Austria will be essential (Fruchthandel, 18 May). He suggests that “In order to achieve this and at the same time to reduce the dependence on imports from third countries, it is more than ever necessary for agriculture, food processing, food trade and gastronomy to join forces.” Hensel points out that the domestic food trade has been acting as a partner and supporter of Austrian farmers and producers for many years, and 22% of the domestic agricultural area is already farmed organically and in a climate-friendly way.
Only about a third of workers from eastern European countries who would normally travel to the UK to harvest vegetable crops and pick fruit have arrived, and only small numbers are likely to continue to travel. Quarantine restrictions and the government’s controversial immigration bill could lead to shortages of workers for the harvest, according to representatives of the UK’s food producers (The Guardian, 19 May). Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, told a parliamentary hearing that the food distribution network in the UK was taken by surprise by the change in consumer behaviour in the early stages of the crisis. Wright said the crisis had shown how vital the food industry was: “If you can’t feed a country, you don’t have a country.” He called for the immigration bill to be reconsidered.
(Fresh Plaza, 19 May) Greece’s fruit farms, normally harvested by Albanian seasonal workers, are facing a labour shortage. Around 15,000 farm labourers are required each year in the fruit-producing regions in northern Greece. To address the shortage, on 1 May the Greek agriculture ministry launched a scheme to allow foreign farm labourers into the country, making an exception to coronavirus border lockdown rules. In Tirana, it is estimated that between 7,000 and 10,000 workers could participate in the scheme. Under the rules, Greek producers can bring in foreign workers for three months, provided they put them on a two-week quarantine upon entering the country.
Despite initiatives launched by various agrarian organisations to provide seasonal workers to the agricultural sector, Spain’s fruit and vegetable sector is one of the most affected by a lack of labour (Fresh Plaza, 20 May). Workers are still needed for the chilli pepper and garlic campaigns in the Basque Country, for the asparagus season in Navarra, for the harvest of open-ground vegetables and the remaining citrus in Valencia and Murcia, for red fruits and garlic, cherries and stone fruit. Providing accommodation for day labourers, offering training to new workers and obtaining personal protective equipment to guarantee worker safety are factors that are increasing labour costs. The sector estimates that costs will increase by 30% compared to previous campaigns.