Measures adopted by countries around the world to counter the Covid-19 pandemic have sent shockwaves across the global economy, triggering turmoil and volatility, notes independent South Africa research group the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) in its latest brief report, 'The Use of Agricultural Inputs in South Africa'. “Amidst this perfect storm, food security remains paramount …. [But] while most agricultural value chains have been exempted from the lockdown restrictions, many of the support services required for the agriculture and food system to function efficiently are not operating at full capacity (e.g. financial services),” it points out.
“Significant uncertainties exists [sic] around how Covid-19 will affect input supply chains in the coming months and how value chains will cope with these volatile conditions,” observes the BFAP in its report. “The seasonal nature of agriculture implies that the impact … can be very different across different subsectors. Production systems differ, the relevant period through which inputs are procured over the year and the intensity in the use of different input types will all play a role.”
Regarding South Africa’s field crops, their quality and the quantity harvested are dependent on the timely acquisition of inputs and the start of the necessary processes. The growing season for the summer crops is almost finished and harvesting has already started. This requires labour, not only for the actual harvesting, but also for transport and storage operations. Also required are machinery and the associated spare parts.
For the winter crops, the planting period will start in the near future. These crops include barley, canola and wheat, and farmers have to start preparing their lands for them. This will require farm machinery and spare parts, farm machinery operators, and the prompt availability of seeds, fertilisers, other chemicals, fuel and other inputs, plus technology support and/or repair services.
Horticulture covers table grapes, wine grapes, stone fruits (such as peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and cherries) pome fruits (apples, pears and quinces), citrus fruits, avocados and nuts. The harvesting of the table and wine grapes, stone fruits and most pome fruits has just finished. The harvesting of avocados, citrus fruits and nuts is just beginning. Harvesting fruit, and transporting it to packaging or processing facilities, requires workers who are reliable and healthy. “With high input cost per hectare and hence producers’ dependence on good yields of high quality fruit delivered at packaging/processing facilities, strong measures of control at orchard level are important to remain profitable and to contribute to rural job creation,” says the BFAP.
Electricity is essential to power the refrigerated facilities that keep the fresh fruit in cold storage. Once the fruit is in cold storage, the refrigerated supply chain has to be kept unbroken until the fruit reaches its final destination. This applies whether the fruit is in a packhouse or a container, on a truck or a train or a ship. Any rise in temperature and the fruit will start to deteriorate. And any delay in moving the fruit along its supply chain increases the risk that that could happen, which will have serious financial consequences for the growers.
Of course, after the harvest, activities continue at the farms and in the orchards. Post-harvest care is applied, which includes pruning trees, applying fertiliser and irrigation.
“It is clear that agricultural operations are dependent on a number of inputs, including labour, plant protection chemicals, fertiliser, packaging materials and feed,” points out the BFAP in its report. “The supply of these inputs relies on the effective functioning of value chains, whether formal or informal, and disruptions in any node could risk food security and/or loss in income and jobs. Amid the Covid-19 crisis, significant volatility and poor economic prospects going forward, the agricultural input supply chain faces a number of challenges and will be tested severely.”