When Super Typhoon Mangkhut ploughed into the South China Sea, it was the world’s biggest storm year-to-date, killing more than 125 people and leaving a trail of destruction through the Philippines, Hong Kong and Guangdong.
The massive storm also devastated rice crops in the Philippines’ main “rice bowl”, the Luzon region.
According to the Philippines Department of Agriculture, Mangkhut (known in that country as Typhoon Ompong) caused around US$260 million (P14 billion) in damage mainly to rice and corn crops.
The Philippines National Food Authority moved stocks out of Luzon before the storm hit, and has assured the public that it is importing and distributing the supplies of the staple to affected areas, including Manila. But it is also asking people to be vigilant and report black-market activities.
Most Luzon farmers have only small land holdings, and their income is derived solely from what they can produce. It will take time for their production to recover, but the major cities of Asia, which rely entirely on imported food, must quickly look to sourcing supplies from elsewhere in the global market.
Such shifts in the broader food supply chain are not uncommon as producers are increasingly affected by climate change-induced extreme weather such as heat waves, severe frosts, fires, increased pests, longer or shorter growing seasons, emerging infectious diseases.
Other measures employed to protect against disaster include building more resilient infrastructure, improvements in refrigeration to lengthen preservation of fruit and vegetables, flood and drought-resistant crops, and hardier animal breeds.
Australian supply chain expert, Gattorna Alignment partner Deborah Ellis, points to the drought currently affecting large agricultural swathes of sheep, beef and crop farming in New South Wales and Queensland.
Many are calling it the worst drought in living memory, and it’s affecting industries from sheep and beef to grain and beer
Ellis said, “We know of major growers shipping barley in from Western Australia to the Port of Brisbane to maintain supply to their major brewing customers when their own properties cannot meet their contracts.”
Large volumes of feed for livestock are also now starting to be shipped from Western Australia, as the lack of rain begins to hurt farmers.
“It is fortunate that Western Australia appears to be heading for a record harvest, while the eastern states have such a shortfall,” commented Ellis.
Unfortunately for those Australian farmers though, wheat and barley prices are soaring.
Add in the cost of shipping, and feeding stock with external supplies, it becomes a very costly exercise.
Despite the inevitability of extreme weather and the fact that these events are happening more often due to climate change, Ellis sees little evidence in Australia at least, of advanced preparation for such events, with supply chains tending to react instead. However, she commented, “To some extent, this is correct though, as there are many different variables in any new situation.”
According to Ellis, while planning can be challenging, there is one group that is starting to get it right. “In the humanitarian sector, major agencies are much more focused on the supply chain these days and pre-position essentials in a very considered way. This is where contingency planning is really starting to have an impact,” she said.