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Fruit and vegetable imports during the COVID-19 crisis

April 4, 2020 12:05 PM
By Rupert Knowles

Countries like Kenya, Ghana and South Africa are suffering catastrophic losses to the economy and livelihoods. This is due to the grounding of flights to Europe. Fruit and vegetables are being left to rot [i] .

Fruit & vegetables

At the same time, public health experts are proclaiming the benefits to the immune system from eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables[ii]. However, now is the 'hungry gap' when there is little produced locally in North Europe.

Freight airlines are charging exorbitant rates and this either increases prices in our shops or plunges producers further into poverty.

Furthermore, British Airways and other carriers have many, many aircraft parked and are seeking government assistance for loss of income or redundancies.

Surely governments should organise and if necessary, subsidise flights to these countries? Banks are being asked to step up to the plate; so should airlines.

  • It would provide a lifeline to growers, packers and processors in Africa who are dependent on this income.
  • It would feed our affluent nations with highly nutritious fresh produce thereby helping to boost immune systems.
  • It would save on redundancies and subsidies to airlines and other intermediaries in this trade.

This is a triple win.

In addition, such flights need not travel empty to Africa and could carry medical and other resources if the pandemic continues to expand on the continent.

At the moment, most African fruit and other produce is sold through supermarkets. However for the duration of this crisis, it might be possible to divert some at cost to patients in hospital or residents in care homes or free to food banks.

How do we get this message across? It is very frustrating.

Rupert Knowles

Rupert Knowles is Chair of Daventry Liberal Democrtas and is a retired horticulture and development professional

[i] Leaders of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a joint statement on March 31 calling on governments to minimize the impact of border restrictions related to COVID-19 on the food trade. "Now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food safety, food security and nutrition and improving the overall well-being of people around the world," the agency's leaders said. The joint statement is available at https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news20_e/igo_26mar20_e.htm

[ii] Professors Tim Lang of City, University of London, Erik Millstone of the University of Sussex Business School and Terry Marsden of Cardiff University have this week written to Defra secretary George Eustice and Duncan Selbie of Public Health England urging that similar importance be given to healthy eating advice as there has been dedicated to social distancing.