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Food shortage would be a serious crisis in UK under lockdown, says GODAN executive director

In the UK’s coronavirus lockdown situation, it is imperative that plans are in place to ensure the supply chain remains open, functional and optimised, according to Andre Laperriere, executive director at Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN)

“There is enough supply for all, as long as everyone stays calm and stops hording. We may tend to waste more food if we hoard more than required. Hoarding would also artificially increase food prices because of the on the pressure on supply chain.”

The impact of a nationwide lockdown on agricultural output has already emerged out of China, where farmers are facing a daunting planting season as they are dealing with shortages in labour, seeds and fertilisers. A survey of village officials in 1,636 counties by the Qufu Normal University in China found that 60 per cent of the respondents were pessimistic or very pessimistic about the planting season. The Chinese agricultural and farming industry has collapsed under the lockdown, freezing labour workforce and supplies.​

UK farming sector is deeply integrated with the global supply chain

The UK’s agriculture industry in contrast to China is highly mechanised, producing 50 per cent of the food it needs with two per cent of the workforce. That being said, the UK farming sector is deeply integrated with the global supply chain, and any macro changes in global markets such as through higher prices for arable farmers, price volatility or impact in reliability can have immediate effect.​

“In immediate terms, the sector is inter-dependent on strong finance for borrowing, energy companies, water supply, packaging materials, transport and human health. All these are critical components are key to keeping the cogs running. Any disruptions, however partial would be disruptive.,” Laperriere added.​​

It is imperative that farms and the food sector receive short-term exemptions from lockdown regulations, and workers are provided with safe work and self-protective equipment to enable them do the urgent and necessary work required to keep the food supply chain robust. The food sector comes under the critical infrastructure sector along with healthcare and emergency services.

Maintaining trade and export activity is vital

“Farmers depend on exports, as much as the UK depends on food imports. China is a big market for UK produce and in turn the UK is dependent on China for a lot of supply chain equipment from fertilisers to packaging materials. The UK also imports 30 per cent of its food needs from the EU, including for fresh fruit and veg, meat, cereals and diary. Closing borders within the EU would result in some supply disruption for sure. Open data would be really indispensable, as it provides for both transparency and for enlightened, efficient, data driven decision making processes.”