A new paper addresses this problem comprehensively, examining the current and potential impacts of the COVID-19 health crisis on the beef and dairy value chain.

By now, everybody is aware of the sweeping negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on many sectors of the economy. The beef and dairy (B&D) industry have not been spared. It has not been possible to accurately measure the magnitude of these impacts, whether positive or negative.

A recently published working paper by researchers from the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT addresses this challenge comprehensively, assessing current and potential impacts of the crisis on the B&D value chain in Colombia.

The ongoing crisis will likely cause significant changes in our food systems, which includes a greater response to new demands from consumers, who will be increasingly concerned with where their food comes from, its quality, sustainability and the well-being of animals. Once the crisis eases, more investments will be made to improve value chains, so they are better equipped to respond to new demands.

A cattle farmer in Patía, Cauca, in the southwestern region of Colombia, where 200 producers have benefited from the work carried out by CIAT's tropical fodder team, the University of Cauca and the Government of Cauca. Photo: (CIAT)

Not all bad news for the beef value chain

This study focuses not only on primary production, but on the entire value chain, including direct and indirect actors, and of course, consumers. It also provides specific concepts on the impacts at each link in the chain. It also addresses positive trends, some of which may help producers and input providers to cope with the crisis and even strengthen areas that demanded attention before the current situation.

Also addressed in this paper are trends in beef and dairy consumption during and after the pandemic, their possible substitutes, and opportunities to advance the safety and sustainability of bovine livestock production. Trends in consumer behavior, such as how they purchase these products, and how their preferences will be oriented towards better food security, traceability, animal welfare and sustainability, were also examined. An analysis was conducted on variations in prices both nationally and globally.

The dollar exchange rate's behavior, an external factor, but directly associated with the pandemic crisis, is addressed in this document. This is due largely to its impact on the trade balance of bovine products and agricultural inputs such as seeds, vaccines, concentrates, supplements, machinery, and others. The study suggests that, once the crisis is over, there could be an opportunity for Colombia to open new export markets for B&D products.

Bovine livestock value chains are made of many links, the impacts of which were reviewed in detail, especially in the supply of inputs, labor, access to credit, technical assistance and vaccination cycles. Transportation and processing of both meat and milk in the main producing regions were other links examined by the authors. However, crosscutting aspects, such as agricultural research, platforms, and communication across levels are subject to analysis, and how virtuality and digitization will play a key role.

Inclusion gains rolled back

Livestock activity is not exempt from disruptions in the dynamics of gender, youth and minorities in the rural sector. Advances made towards more inclusion and gender equality in livestock farming are in jeopardy. For instance, gender is a structurally fragile issue, with historical labor divisions based mainly on gender identity. The emerging presence of armed actors in rural areas of the country is putting gains made towards gender equality at risk.

The working paper draws attention to rural education, stressing the need to promote better connectivity across the country. It would seem that authorities are accelerating rural connectivity plans and emergency alternatives to continue providing some degree of equality to the always-urgent need for better access to education in rural areas.

Sustainability could have greater attention

Before the pandemic, sustainable intensification was one of the most critical debates in the livestock sector in the country and globally, responding to the need to meet the growing demand for food sustainably. The crisis has affected the continuity of these efforts. Still, sustainability will be an even greater priority when this pandemic is over, requiring mitigation strategies to avoid further setbacks.

A matrix summarizes the main impacts of the crisis in the short (during the crisis), medium and long term, and proposes mitigation options for each impact by sector. While much remains to be investigated, adopting rapid mitigation actions could prevent further losses, even when combined with the risk of increasing threats, such as the challenges posed by climate change.

Although this study focuses on Colombia, using mainly local sources, the results, impacts and possible mitigation strategies are relevant to other countries with similar practices and current state of the livestock sector; and, more importantly, the mitigation strategies that could be applied. Now is the time to act.

This blog originally appeared on the CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and CIAT (Spanish) website. 

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José Luis Urrea Benítez is a Communications Specialist and Editorial Assistant at The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.