The COVID-19 pandemic has been described as an equaliser because it affects people of all countries - rich or poor. But the truth is, some countries were hit far harder than others.
Those whose survival hangs by a thread are the first victims of disruptions to the food supply chain, unable to afford to feed themselves and their families in the wake of the economic upheaval of a global lockdown. Last April, The UN World Food Program (WFP) predicted that at least 265 million people were at risk of going hungry in 2020 – twice that of 2020.
Systems of food distribution and retailing in rich nations are organised and automated, whereas systems in developing countries are labour intensive, making them much more vulnerable to social distancing and regulations as per the New York Times.
Add to this that food systems in low-income countries traditionally consist of micro-businesses that produce, process, market and sell directly to restaurants and market stalls.
While global supplies of basic foodstuffs may “remain abundant,” the challenge remains in whether the food can be harvested and transported at the right time. Further disruption challenges to consider include:
Reasonably well in comparison to other developing countries.
This can be largely attributed to the fact that PNG pursued a policy of food self-sufficiency prior to the current crisis – 85% of its 9 million people still rely heavily on subsistence farming. The government also acted quickly in implementing a state of emergency after the first case in the country was identified, curbing the spread of the virus.
While necessary, these restrictions had a devastating impact on those whose livelihood relies on informal economic activity: resulting in job losses; incomes slashed and increases to the price of goods as rural products did not reach towns and urban supplies were not delivered to outlying provinces.
Local market gardening not only fulfils basic needs by providing food security, but is also an economic incentive in rural communities, maintaining and strengthening the social fabric.
Imported goods do still play an important role, and COVID-19 has decreased the availability of imported rice and flour-based products in stores, as well as the purchasing power of the poorest in PNG. Those affected have switched to a diet based exclusively on local food products, in a move likely to undermine the nutrition gains made through the introduction of a more diverse diet.
On a more positive note, the food marketing system in PNG is remarkably vibrant, with entrepreneurs along the supply chain ready to compete and innovate to expand their operations to meet the needs of customers. This potential cannot be realised without improvements to the Food Supply Chain Management (FSCM).
This may be within reach. PNG’s Prime Minister Marape favours an inclusive growth agenda to diversify the economy. This stems from an awareness that they are largely dependent on revenues from extractive industries, leaving the country’s financial prosperity vulnerable to downturns. Continued efforts to boost local food production should provide long term fiscal and social benefits.
In a country where 85% of people depend on substance farming, these farmers who are often incredibly poor, are the key both to the country’s wealth and to food security.
For this reason, there is an urgent need to support smallholder farmers and lift them out of poverty. AgUnity provides the tools for this to happen. The Australian startup’s capability to provide practical solutions during this crisis was recently evidenced when they were selected as a finalist for YBF Ventures Best Agritech Pivot in the Online Startup and Innovations Awards.
AgUnity is a global technology platform, available on mobile smartphones, tablets and desktop applications, works toward UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The platform is an ethical, cost-effective and accountable blockchain-based solution, that enables secure transactions through the whole supply chain, that addresses poor connectivity and lack of digital literacy.
It ‘connects the last mile’ and equips farmers to get a fair price for their crops. Crucially in the context of PNG, its umbrella app allows users to access services without having to download separate applications, thus ensuring the continuity of the supply chain.
In the palm of their hand, smallholder farmers will have a multi-functional device that supports:
At the other end of the line, commodity buyers and traders can use AgUnity for effective chain solutions.
At a practical, down-to-earth level, this is a technology that limits intermediaries, reduces waste, enables communication and marketing, saves time and effort.
Further AgUnity benefits to smallholder farmers:
AgUnity is the ideal solution in a country like PNG, where agriculture is the economy’s main contributor and support to the poorest will empower rural communities.
Let’s not forget that agriculture feeds the mining sector, that an improved purchasing power in rural communities leads to a rise in employment and, through tax, to a higher contribution to the national income, thus providing more funds to be invested in other sectors and saving on imported goods as PNG can feed its own population.
Finally, with AgUnity PNG has a tool to realise its potential to become a food bowl for Asia and to play a bigger role globally as it develops a more viable agricultural structure.