< Farmers, Suppliers Keep World Fed During Health Crisis
By Alice Bryant
14 May 2020

From Asia to America, the spread of coronavirus has caused huge problems for the systems that usually bring food to people's tables.

For example, the health crisis has closed factories and threatened the meat supply in the United States. People cannot not go to restaurants and markets under stay-at-home orders. Foreign laborers cannot cross borders to help gather fruits and vegetables at harvest time. And crops are left to die in the fields as workers cannot reach them.

It is forcing suppliers to change their normal processes to deal with harvesting, transporting and distributing food. But many farms and companies are making needed changes quickly.

Cutting out middlemen

Didier Lenoble operates a family farm near Paris. He is now using the internet to sell vegetables. The usual street shops he supplies are temporarily closed because of the coronavirus crisis. "It is a whole new business," he said.

Rungis International Market, Europe's biggest food market, sits just south of Paris. Its online service has increased home deliveries from 250 a month to 6,500 a week in and around the French capital.

In India, Sahyadri Farms now makes daily deliveries to 3,000 city customers. Sahyadri is a cooperative in the western state of Maharashtra that processes fruit and vegetables for export.

Customers order online, after India's stay-at-home orders hurt the supply system and left some farmers feeding their crops to animals. A head of the cooperative said Sahyadri is cutting out people in the middle of the supply system and farmers and customers are happy.

Vegetable grower Didier Lenoble, wearing a protective face mask, poses among boxes with vegetable put on sell during the outbreak of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Perigny-sur-Yerres, France, March 31, 2020. (REUTERS/Charles Platiau)
Vegetable grower Didier Lenoble, wearing a protective face mask, poses among boxes with vegetable put on sell during the outbreak of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Perigny-sur-Yerres, France, March 31, 2020. (REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

In the U.S., restaurant owners and suppliers are trying new ways to reach people. Chicago-based Park and Field sells grocery and meal boxes to families at home. Gunthorp Farms in Lagrange, Indiana is selling chicken directly to customers. That chicken used to only be sold to restaurants.

For some suppliers, the issue has been keeping up with demand for fast-selling basic foods such as eggs, flour and pasta. Pasta and flour makers in North America and Europe are running some production lines 24 hours a day.

Other suppliers are turning to new groups of workers.

Finding new workers

U.S. fruit company Driscoll's has given jobs to restaurant and hotel workers that lost their jobs during the crisis.

Omar Cortes Arteaga lost his job at an automobile factory. He now works at Green Gold Farms, a supplier to Driscoll's. Arteaga, and other workers wear masks and have temperature checks before going into the fields. "The job is helping me with my bills," he said.

Finding seasonal workers is critical in Europe, where spring harvests are at risk because the usually huge number of migrant laborers cannot leave home.

Spain is the European Union's biggest fruit and vegetable exporter. The country has responded by letting unemployed people take farm jobs while keeping government aid payments. And it has extended work permits for the foreign laborers already in the country.

In France, 15,000 workers who lost other jobs will help avoid the possible shortage of foreign laborers this spring. Germany, Britain and Ireland are permitting companies to bring in trained workers from other European Union states on special flights with quarantine measures. And Russia might use prisoners to help out with farming.

The U.S. has exempted foreign laborers from a temporary ban on immigration during the crisis to help farms and businesses. And an Iraq official said farm workers were exempted from curfew measures and farmers were permitted to move harvesting machinery around the country.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Reuters news agency reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

delivery - n. the act of taking something to a person or place

distribute - v. to give or deliver something to a store or business

customer - n. someone who buys goods or services from a business

grocery (store) - n. A store that sells food and household supplies

mask - n. a covering used to protect your face or cover your mouth

migrant - n. a person who goes from one place to another especially to find work

quarantine - n. the situation of being kept away from others to prevent a disease from spreading

exempt - adj. not required to do something that others are required to do

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