Australia and New Zealand agri-food industries highly resilient during COVID-19

12 Jan 2021 | 2 mins

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have found the agri-food systems of Australia and New Zealand were highly resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a new research paper, published in Agricultural Systems, UWA researchers measured the immediate impact of COVID-19 on the sector.

Researchers found the impact of COVID-19 control measures (such as border closures, movement restrictions and market disruptions) on agri-food systems in Australia and New Zealand had been relatively small up to June 2020.

UWA’s Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique, Professor David Parnell and Dr Amin Mugera collaborated with researchers from Australian institutions CSIRO Agriculture and Food, The University of Queensland and The University of Tasmania, in addition to New Zealand institutions AgResearch, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, Lincoln University, Plant and Food Research and Scion on the project.

Data was collected through online surveys and targeted interviews with key individuals in the agri-food sectors including farmers, business owners and company employees.

The research determined that agri-food systems’ resilience during COVID-19 relied upon five critical subsystems: the production and processing system, the economic system, institutional activities, social and cultural interactions, and the environment.

The UWA Institute of Agriculture Director Professor Siddique said the survey and interview results showed multiple sources of high resilience, which helped compensate for the more vulnerable subsystems.

“We found that, overall, the Australian and New Zealand government restrictions and rules were adopted rapidly by the agri-food industry.”

Professor Kadambot Siddique
UWA Institute of Agriculture Director

“That willingness to adapt, combined with a determined and cooperative attitude and high level of ingenuity, helps account for the relatively minor losses up to June 2020,” Professor Siddique said.

The researchers found that Australia and New Zealand agri-food systems coped relatively well during the initial shutdown due to a combination of factors: the industries’ fair technology, prior experience of shocks (such as floods and bushfires), proven financial resilience, and logistical support from their governments.

The challenges of the pandemic highlighted the importance of high quality internet and telecommunications and labour-saving technologies such as automated or remote-controlled vehicles and machinery.

It also exposed opportunities to increase the resilience of the sector when faced with unprecedented change, such as upskilling young people in rural areas, improving business intelligence, diversifying export markets and strengthening local production.

Although most respondents reported a negative impact on production, Professor Siddique said some responses were neutral and even positive – with Australians responding slightly more optimistically on average.

“One unexpectedly positive consequence of the pandemic has been the community’s renewed interest in where their food comes from, and a greater appreciation for local food production systems and industries,” he said.

A follow-up study will be conducted in 2022 to capture and analyse the longer-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agri-food systems of Australia and New Zealand.

Media references

Rosanna Candler (Communications Officer, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) 08 6488 1650
Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique (Director, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) 0864887012
Jess Reid (UWA Media and PR Adviser) 08 6488 6876

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