What do ACP producers and exporters need most urgently? First survey results

Through an online survey, COLEACP has been asking what support is most urgently needed by the ACP fruit and vegetable sector during the current crisis. Preliminary results from 87 contributors are analysed below.
Respondents were asked to prioritise the three most urgent areas where support is needed. Access to finance was clearly regarded as the most urgent area (77.0% of respondents placed this in their top three issues), followed by hygiene and food safety practices (69.0%). Support for storage/processing, logistics solutions, diversifying markets, and crisis management were all regarded as among the most urgent areas.

Finance
Finding solutions for access to finance was important to the majority of survey respondents (92.0%). The same number felt it will be important to disseminate testimonials to raise awareness among the general public and decision-makers about the risks facing the sector in terms of job losses and reduced income for producers (however, when asked to prioritise, only 5.7% placed this in their top three).

Good hygiene and food safety practices
Asked about information on good hygiene and food safety practices in relation to the coronavirus, almost all respondents (96.6%) wanted dissemination of this information. Almost equal numbers wanted a simple handout to print and distribute (e.g. within the company or packhouses) (88.5%); an information session to deliver to employees and workers (online, written materials, etc.) (88.5%); and an information session to deliver to outgrowers (87.4%). Giving more detail on the types of information and training materials, respondents suggested “A simple handout that can be printed and distributed on signs and symptoms, how it is caught and how to protect yourself, and procedure if one has it, what to do, what manager should tell the workers”; and “There is a need for lots of pictograms on hygiene issues”. Illustrative videos of how to protect yourself against COVID-19 were also suggested. Regarding the delivery of information, suggestions included training on the use of e-learning tools; and the ability to use COLEACP e-learning on android phones to reach producers without internet access. Longer-term views on health and safety included “Strengthening the capacity of the plant’s HSE department in terms of workforce and skills”, and “We need to promote home garden and online means to deliver goods”. Respondents also mentioned specific practical equipment that is difficult to access: PPE and disinfectant for workers and outgrowers; infra-red thermometers for daily temperature checking; masks, gloves, sanitising gel and dispensers; and also computer equipment to print out handouts for workers.

Logistics
On getting produce to markets, most respondents (81.6%) were interested in information on local transportation. Very similar numbers wanted logistics solutions for air freight (59.8%) and sea freight (57.5%).

Management
Asked about advice on crisis management, the vast majority of respondents wanted advice on crisis communication (92.0%). Financial management and human resources management were also important to most respondents (87.4% for both). In addition, respondents suggested (among others) advice on environmental management; help to become organically certified as organic foods are perceived to be healthier and boost immunity; assistance with spot marketing to enable distribution of supplies; and help in searching for better markets. Other requests included assistance in setting up an outgrower system for easy management, tracking and monitoring; contingency planning; management of new agricultural techniques; and reorganising workspaces taking into account the COVID-19 recommended arrangements. Stress management, and motivation of trainers, sensitisers, supervisors and extension workers, were also raised.

Storage/processing
Asked about support to improve storage/processing of fresh produce, respondents focused mainly on mangoes, pineapples, leafy vegetables and salad vegetables such as tomatoes, herbs and spices (turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, moringa), in addition to a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
On the question of what equipment is urgently needed to improve storage/processing of fresh produce, the majority of respondents focused on refrigeration equipment (cold storage rooms, pre cooling and cold transport, mobile cold stores, refrigerated trucks, etc.), and curing and drying equipment (especially solar driers) and related solar panels and generators. Aluminium bags for herbs and spices were also requested, as was smoking equipment. Other items noted included the need to expand seedling production; seeds, plant protection products and fertilisers; control of alteration indices (water content, organoleptic, vitamins) with portable devices; and modern juice and wine production equipment.
Reflecting a range of different types and sizes of businesses, respondents’ estimates of the immediate investment need to improve storage/processing varied. The majority (35.8%) suggested they would need investment of €10,000–50,000; 11.9% were in the €50,000–100,000 bracket; and 26.9% over €100,000. 25.4% felt that an investment of under €10,000 would be helpful to them.
88.5% of respondents would be interested in support to diversify markets, particularly at the local level.

Other suggestions
Respondents were also asked about additional actions that should be taken. Many reiterated that they needed help with staff health and safety. Many suggestions also focused on identifying alternative or additional markets, particularly local and regional markets – “provide information on the fruit needs of neighbouring countries and potential customers” – and on the wider needs that are likely to arise in the near future:

In view of the foreseeable world food crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is appropriate for States and multilateral partners to invest in the improvement of agricultural techniques in order to increase yields.

Now produce enough fruit and vegetables to fight hunger. So that the local, regional and European market is always supplied with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Inform on the opportunities that could arise from this crisis for producers and exporters.