Supply chain diversification is a good thing, particularly when it comes to food. It can reduce overreliance on a single supplier, grower or global region, and can reduce exposure to pest and disease infestations, trade wars, weather events and climate change.
China’s small farmers are feeling the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some cannot harvest their crops due to quarantine measures, transportation options have dried up, while sales to restaurants and cafes are on hold.
Farmers without access to cold storage are among the hardest hit, and it’s forcing some to dump their produce, and others to abandon their farms and livelihood altogether.
However, “A transition to off-grid, solar-powered cold storage systems can reduce food waste and make more food available for subsistence and sales, ensuring food security and economic development while minimizing the adverse effects of conventional, fossil fuel-based agricultural value chains,” states the Brookings Institution.
Empowering small farmers with cold chain solutions addresses multiple issues.
Food waste is one issue. In the developing world, including many parts of Asia and Africa, food waste occurs before the food even reaches the market, such as during post-harvest. This contributes to food insecurity and malnutrition, as well as greenhouse gas emissions and ocean acidification.
Maintaining supplier diversity is another issue. In China and other developing nations, the farming sector is made up primarily of small farmers. What happens when small farmers cannot remain viable, whether in the developing world or industrialized nations? What would fewer small farmers mean to the global food supply chain?
Lack of diversification in the global food chain due to industry consolidation is problematic. While the advent of industrialized farming in the twentieth century brought efficiencies to food production, the benefits today are overshadowed by serious concerns, including the environmental impacts related to chemical fertilizers and animal waste, and the overuse of antibiotics in animals.
Meanwhile, Big Ag keeps on getting bigger, controlling more land, more resources, and more of the global food supply chain—what and how food is produced, and ultimately what ends up on our grocery shelves. Moreover, consider that only four companies now control two-thirds of the global seed market.