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COVID-19 and its impact in the Agricultural sector

COVID-19 is a disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. First reported in mainland China in the city of Wuhan during the last quarter of the year 2019. It affects the respiratory system and thus spreads through the droplet infection. As soon as initial research studies of both the disease and the virus were published, scientists noted the virus’ unique behaviour, genome structure and pathological symptoms. Global health officials quickly realised that they were dealing with a potential pandemic and recommended social distancing and regular washing/disinfection of hands and physical isolation or quarantine as a way of containing the spread of the pandemic. Although reluctant at first, most governments, later on, approved the wearing of face masks. Altogether, these implemented measures proved effective in flattening the disease curve however, they would also change the way of life. The global health and financial sectors bore the brant of COVID 19’s impact however, the Agricultural sector was not left out as the disease threatened lives and livelihoods. FAO states that the disease significantly impacted food production, supply and demand. 

With a global mortality rate averaging 2 %, vital human resources have been and continue lost to the pandemic. From the middle towards the end of March, the global cases and the death toll rose sharply before being contained. As even popular international figures either got infected or succumbed to the disease, it dawned on even to some of the most defiant world leaders that national lockdowns were their best option to arrest the rapid spread of the disease and reorganise structures. However, this came at a cost as fields were left unattended and agricultural produce prone to spoilage, affecting production negatively.

As food pantries became empty for those in lockdown, the demand for produce rose and so did the prices of some commodities. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) attributes the local/regional commodity price increases partly due to logistical challenges in the face of movement restrictions imposed by governments.

It quickly became apparent that some “essential staff” had to leave their homes and make food available to the nations. In countries such as Ireland however, the pandemic further stirred intense political debate on the sources of labour when one farmer chattered a plane of foreign immigrants to pick up fruit and vegetables from the fields.

FAO estimates that in developing countries, the most vulnerable are more likely to be hit the hardest. A significant proportion of people rely on income earned on a daily basis for the acquisition of food, and access to food became a huge challenge in the face of the imposed lockdowns. Globally, open-air agricultural markets that were deemed either unhygienic or potential sources of the spread of COVID 19 were closed down, leading to loss of income.

Ultimately Covid-19 not only affected agriculture, but it may have changed the way of life. It remains to be seen how much of the impact will be long term and how long it will last.

Picture credit: Canada Immigration.