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Does the COVID-19 pandemic make us to reconsider the relevance of short food supply chains and local productions?

The globalization led to the opportunity to make available several food products in all over the world, with positive returns for the profitability of the food industries and for consumers. After the second world war, all the involved countries had to face and to resolve several critical issues regarding the food productions: first, the food security; secondly, the food safety of products; and nowadays, the improvement of foods from a nutritional, technological, and sensorial point of view. The short food supply chains and the local producers, which were not able to be part of this global business for several reasons (e.g. low production capacity, non-competitive prices, etc.) were negatively affected in this condition. The biggest and most important sector affected by this crisis is the food service industry.

But what happens in the event of a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic? If even the countries member of the European community close their borders, how can movements and availability of food be ensured? Moreover, given the personal freedoms restrictions of consumers applied by country governments, who sometimes cannot even change municipalities for purchase foods, how can access to essential foods be ensured for these people?

A potential answer to these questions might be furnished by short food supply chains and local productions, which feel less the effect of international restrictions and so that their rooted presence in the territory, could be closer to the consumers. Due to these reasons, after the conclusion of this international crisis, it is essential to strengthen the research activities to provide technical solutions to improve short food supply chains and local productions. The reinforcement of this local micro-economy is also useful in non-crisis situations, since allow to increase the chances of employment and improve people’s quality of life. Our food supply is remarkably resilient precisely because our sources of food are geographically dispersed. We wouldn’t have to rely on food from only one place. Sometime, when we are forced to take a step backwards, to have invested in the improvement of short food supply chains and in local productions could let us moving forwards, preserving the food products access.

Empty shelves lining supermarkets, farmers dumping milk and abandoning fields of crops, restaurants laying off staff- the food landscape has changed dramatically in just a month. The COVID-19 crisis is still unfolding, consumers and food system players are still adjusting, and the growing season in many places has hit full swing. As restaurants and institutions shut down, companies upstream in the food supply system, such as meat and dairy processing plants, have struggled to switch from bulk delivery for food service into the retail grocery sector. As the consumer income falls, farmers have seen dramatic declines in prices received for the livestock and animal feed, while commodity prices for basic staples like wheat have fallen less.

But it is the time for the small farmers to emerge as winners or losers. Farmers with a lot of storage crops, and the things like value-added dairy products like yogurt and cheese, that they can produce year-round, if they have the opportunity to sell directly to consumers, are seeing a huge increase in demand. Many farmers are making forays into home delivery, considering contact less delivery and drive-by pickup options for individual buyers, and looking into online ordering and collaborative delivery models, in which many small producers aggregate their products and distribute them together. So, this will be helpful in maintaining the supply chain and local productions. Everyone is in crisis mode, but at some point, we are going to have to talk about solutions.

Reference:
Trends in Food Science & Technology 99 (2020) 566–567


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