COVID-19 has affected many different work demographics in unprecedented ways, and farmers are no exception. As the virus continues to threaten lives and livelihoods of millions around the world, in South and Southeast Asia, added concerns about the long-term health of the sub-regions’ food systems are being raised. (See also last week’s post about the impact on seafood supply chains.)
Some farmers in Central Luzon, located in the Philippines, claim that the fertilizers that they’ve received from the Department of Agriculture (DA) as a part of COVID-19 aid are overpriced. Two farmers, William Laureta and Ernesto Agustin Domino, on June 10th, said that the DA stimulus program bought roughing 1.8 million bags of urea fertilizer for a total of P1.8 billion (2.22B USD)- around P1,000 (1,200 USD) per bag – however, the average retail price of the fertilizer was only P850 (1,000 USD) per bag, creating an overprice of P271.6 million (335.4M USD).
Laureta stated [in translation] “farmers could barely survive this crisis, and even the government is vitally scraping the bottom of the barrel now just to look for funds to help the most vulnerable sectors, including farms, and to keep the economy afloat.” Domingo added “these agriculture officials should be taken to task for knowingly entering into an anomalous and overpriced contract. They have betrayed us farmers who need all the help we can get and have defrauded the government of millions of pesos of crucial funds.” Both agree that the savings the DA could have garnered could be used to add to the government’s COVID-19 response, as President Rodrigo Duterte said that the country was running out of funds.
Malaysia is the world’s second-largest palm oil producer, and relies on foreigners, drawn mainly from the neighboring Indonesia and South Asian countries, for roughly 70% of its plantation workforce. Recruitment has been stalled as a result of the stay-at-home orders, and this has caused the country’s plantation industry to be short 500,000 workers, according to the Malaysian government. “We have not received new workers in the last three months,” said Nageeb Wahab, chief executive of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA), “many workers have repatriated and absconded during the lockdown. A lot of estates will be short of workers.”
Plantation and Commodities Minister Mohd Khairuddin Atman Razali has urged the companies to hire more local workers. “If we talk about the introduction of new foreign workers in the sector, it will not happen in the near future because we have restricted their entry until further notice. The current batch of foreign workers are those who have a work permit[…] when their permit ends, they will be sent back to their respective countries. This is an opportunity for us to replace them with locals.”
India is home to 120 million smallholder farmers who contribute over 40% of the country’s grain production, and over 50% of its fruits, vegetables, oilseeds and other crops. While each year, India’s farmers face challenges like low rainfall, price volatility, and debt, the pandemic is adding new risks and challenges, as the nationwide lockdown came during the harvest season. This has created shortages of both labor and equipment, as migrant workers are unable to move to rural areas as they usually would, and the harvesting equipment that smallholder farmers need is unavailable for renting.
Farmers have been unable to harvest their bumper crops (cereal and oilseed) this season, while in some places the crops have been delayed or completely abandoned. Though India’s feedback had the minimum operational buffer in stock three times over, supply and access is the critical issue. Long supply chains are heavily affected as transport is restricted and some drivers abandoned trucks full of produce in the middle of interstate highways. Markets ran short on supplies as a result.
Read more on WBCSD’s article on the “Impact of COVID-19 on smallholder farmers” found here:
Author: Camryn Thomas