Lessons learnt from Covid-19 for the feed industry
In mid-March Milling and Grain had the opportunity to talk to Dr Defa Li, the President of the Chinese Feed Association about maintaining food supplies to a city of 8.4 million people locked-down for over one month as it faced the reality of an epidemic from COVID-19 and what procedures had to be adopted to support families in their homes.
Dr Defa Li, who is also the Director of Academic Committee of State Key Laboratory of Animal Nutrition, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Professor of the College of Animal Science and Technology at the China Agricultural University, specialises in research and basic study of China's feed resources.
Milling and Grain put several questions to him as the government gained control of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan in particular, as well as its surrounding populated areas in Hubei Province.
Is Wuhan an important livestock/agricultural food production region?
Wuhan is the provincial capital city of Hubei and is located in the middle reaches of the Yangtze River which has allowed this area to develop significant agriculture production including livestock production. Hubei is the fifth largest province for swine production and is the top 10 province for feed and poultry production in China. Hubei is also the most important producing area for canola, rapeseed meal, honey and freshwater fish in China.
In regard to managing food supplies, did the government arrange food supplies to families quickly enough and without problems?
Overall, the supplies of food to families went smoothly under the arrangement and supervision of both the central government and the local government in Wuhan.
Firstly, there were abundant goods and materials transported to Wuhan, as well as other areas in Hubei from provinces all over China, to ensure the enough supplies were available during the lockdown.
Secondly, a system of distribution was created in Wuhan, on the basis of residential communities, which meant that all the supplies were directly distributed to each residential community based on the population in that community, and the staff and volunteers in the community sent food and daily necessities to each apartment.
Thirdly, some digital apps were used to help order food and necessities from nearby supermarkets and stores that were still open, and couriers delivered those goods through the above system to communities. With such systems, it can both ensure the supplies to families and help a lockdown control the epidemic.
Were farmers able to send their animals and agricultural produce to market? How did that food then get to households?
The government opened 'Green Channels' (Easy Access) for vehicles sending animals and agricultural products. Because the highway to Wuhan was also closed, the 'Green Channel' helped the food and daily necessities arrive in Wuhan in time. The food was then directly sent to the major supermarkets and also to the communities through the system mentioned above.
Did farmers receive a continuous supply of feed from feed mills? Did any feed mills have to close? Were workers tested regularly?
Actually, when the coronavirus broke out, it was the Spring Festival in China, and most workers of feed mills had gone back home to reunite with their families. Therefore, most feed mills closed before the coronavirus broke out. For the livestock producers, they usually store some feed to fulfil the requirement during the Spring Festival, which can normally support between one-to-two month's usage.
Even though the transportation was not as smooth as usual after the holiday, the Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs had announced several policies to ensure a continuous supply of feed to the livestock producers and settled specialised hotlines to solve the problems related to feed and agricultural goods supply.
Now, more polices have been announced to encourage the factories, including mills, to open and help workers back to their factories, such as finance support, mask support and so on. The workers back at their factories are required to quarantine for some days and report their body temperature every day before going back to their positions and starting work.
What has been the most significant impact on the feed sector? Was that the transportation of feed from factory to farm?
Now the most significant impact on the feed sector in the other provinces outside Hubei is the non-indigenous workers, who are not easy to go back to their positions, especially for those from areas with serious epidemics, such as Wuhan. For the local workers, there is no problem. For the transportation of feed, it is not a big problem now.
How does the future look? What lessons should the feed industry learn from your industry's experience?
The coronavirus is under control in China, including that in Wuhan, since nearly no case appears outside Wuhan now. It should be attributed to the correct management by the government, the effort of every Chinese person and, especially, to the sacrifice made by the people in Wuhan. For the feed industry, the police support from the government including the local government can help a lot under such epidemics. The industry is certain to have a bright future after this crisis.