The new coronavirus designated COVID-19 continues this week to take a growing toll on lives, resources and emotional health. The pandemic is requiring responses to unprecedented challenges in all facets of life, including how best to conduct commerce, ensuring medical readiness and maintaining a safe and viable food supply.
The latter, of course, is a major point of focus for Solutions from the Land. As the pandemic continues to take its toll across the world – the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented in its global scale with outbreaks having been reported in at least 186 countries – food supplies and availability face unprecedented disruptions and volatility, generating a degree of uncertainty not seen since the Great Depression of 90 years ago.
Last month, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), an international and intergovernmental platform bringing together stakeholder to coordinate ways to ensure global food security and nutrition, issued a paper warning that the pandemic is a crisis that “is leading to instability in both local and global food markets, causing a disruption to food supply and availability.” The CFS, which reports to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), says the coronavirus “highlights existing challenges in food systems and emphasizes the need for improved resilience in food supply chains and in food systems.”
Agriculture plays a foundational role in humanity’s ability to meet the challenges that beset our world. But recent weeks have shown a vulnerability in the system that underscore the constant need to adapt and refocus the practices and tools that can insure an ample food supply.
Among recent coronavirus-related setbacks include supply chain disruptions resulting in dairy farmers dumping millions of gallons of milk over the past couple of weeks. With the sudden plunge in the wholesale, food-service market brought about by the closing of schools and restaurants, dairy processing plants are still trying to catch up and meet the sudden and massive shift in demand now hitting retail outlets like grocery stores – and the packaging and logistical issues that have come with that shift.
The Renewable Fuels Association said that as of Tuesday (April 6), the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the closure of 41 ethanol plants, representing an annual production capacity of 3.2 billion gallons. Some 66 plants have reduced their output rates by a collective 1.8 billion gallons. Another 13 plants with 800 million gallons of capacity were closed or idled due to other factors prior to the onset of the pandemic. Overall, the trade group says, a total of about 5.8 billion gallons of capacity is idle today, representing more than a third of the industry’s total production capacity. On an annualized basis, this would represent a potential lost demand for 1.7 billion bushels of corn.
On a smaller scale, meat supply lines were disrupted when processing plants in Iowa, Pennsylvania and other states were shut down after workers became ill and were diagnosed with COVID-19.
The events of recent weeks have led many in the food industry, including farmers, to conclude that nothing will ever be the same going forward. Current circumstances, coupled with the likelihood that the world’s population will soar to 10 billion people by mid-century, portray the need for transformational change ahead. We now live in an era where a global pandemic and climate change are threatening food security. To counter these threats, land management policies must embrace a systems approach that recognizes the tremendous diversity of agricultural landscapes and ecosystems and enables producers to utilize the systems and practices that best support their farming operations.
In the coming months, Solutions from the Land will be facilitating a re-imagination of the role of agriculture in meeting global societal needs. The world is searching for solutions, and agriculture has a unique opportunity to show how well managed farms, ranches and forests can be at the forefront of resolving food system, energy, environmental and climate challenges. At the same time, farmers, ranchers and forestland owner can achieve global sustainable development goals with pragmatic, proven and innovative agricultural solutions that benefit producers, the public and the planet. SfL recognizes this pursuit as our mission. We stand ready to answer the call from world leaders for help.