The massive global economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, wrought by the subsequent restrictions on human activity, to curtail the spread of the virus, had extreme implications for agriculture and food production. Certainly, the restrictions on labour movement in particular, resulted in major challenges in terms of food supply, as there were often labour shortages in all areas of the food production process; including, harvesting, processing, transport and distribution. Therefore, in this week’s blog, we will take a brief look at how the pandemic might very well shape agriculture and food production processes, moving forward.
The Short-Term Implications
In the short-term, fears around further pandemics are likely to have immediate implications for agriculture and food, some of which are already being observed. For example, at a local level, there are already growing trends around ideas of self-sufficiency; for instance, individuals and families are, in increasing numbers, opting to grow their own fruit and veg, in garden spaces or allotments. Indeed, there has been a massive increase in applications to councils for allotments during the pandemic, in England (The Guardian, Aug, 2020). Whilst, at a national level, countries will most likely emphasise more self-sufficiency in terms of food production, in order to reduce reliance on food imports and labour coming in from other countries. This was perhaps tentatively evidenced in the UK during the first wave lockdown, where there was a call for a UK based “land army” to come together, in the “Pick for Britain” scheme.
The Long-Term Implications
With a view to protecting the long-term food supply against potential future pandemics, governments could opt for strategies to manage food security issues, such as, the implementation of policies to block exports and restrict imports of food, in order to encourage or even force, internal food production, which could also have a profound impact on the trade in global food. In addition, supply chains could increasingly be managed strategically, in a more conservative fashion, in order to hold greater stocks for entire countries, in the event of possible future pandemics, which again, could also have a profound impact on the global food trade.
Implications for Agriculture & Food Production Techniques, Practices & Labour
In terms of food production techniques and practices, at the level of industry, there could be a greater emphasis on automated processes of food production, whereby, farms and food production businesses rely more heavily on automated technologies, such as harvesting robots and AI, rather than human labour. This would avoid the potential for human interaction and the increased chance of spreading illness and disease, whilst also reducing running costs for businesses. However, it is plainly obvious, that although there are a number of benefits to switching to more automated systems, this does however reduce the capacity or need for human workers. Consequently, there could be fewer paid job opportunities for people, which in turn, could also negatively impact wider economies and therefore potentially, the public health of nations.
Another shift could be a greater growth in alternative agricultural techniques and practice, such as, vertical farming. Being a form of “protected cropping”, vertical farming reduces or even negates, much of the risk associated historically, with traditional forms of crop farming and food production; in particular, in terms of sustainability and reducing the distance between producer and consumer. Tied in with this therefore, is that increasing shifts towards “protected cropping” such as, vertical farming, will also be beneficial in terms of the immediacy of the climate crisis and the imminent need for humans to quickly change and adapt their agricultural, food production techniques and practices.
The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been an unprecedented moment in modern human history, impacting the very fabric of human society and its functioning. The pandemic has forced humanity to once again draw on its innate creative ability to quickly adapt, counter and adjust to nature’s tendency for unleashing obscure unknowns, such as Covid-19. Agriculture and food production were no exception, the industry adapted quickly, it rose to the challenge and in doing so, has potentially begun to calve out, an increasingly, albeit without potential problems, health conscious, climate friendly trajectory, rooted in more sustainable farming techniques and practices.
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