Belgian potato farmers are facing a surplus of some 750,000 tonnes of crop that risks being destroyed because of measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to the sector organisation Belgapom.
Potato farmers face the consequences of a crash in the market. Since the lockdown in mid-March, restaurants have been closed, and demand has slumped. And the near future promises no relief.
For example, one unforeseen consequence of the cancellation of the many music festivals that dot the Belgian summer is a drastic reduction in demand for frites – a popular form of sustenance among festival-goers.
Belgapom is now calling on the population to make up for the shortfall by eating frites twice a week at home instead of once. Home is the most important place for consumption of potatoes in general, according to market research carried out for the Flemish agricultural marketing agency VLAM. The exception being for frites, which are mainly consumed in restaurants or bought to take away from snack bars.
Snack bars selling takeaway have been allowed to stay open during the confinement, however sales are down even there as people in general prefer to stay home unless absolutely necessary.
But it is an ill wind that blows no good, and Belgapom has now announced it will supply 25 tonnes of potatoes every week to food banks, at least until the end of May. As potato farmers face surplus stocks, so food banks are facing shortages and growing demand for their services.
“In this way, part of the potato stock will still be used and we can avoid seeing excellent food, for which our farmers have worked so hard, being lost,” said Flemish agriculture minister Hilde Crevits.
The potato sector, both production and processing into products such as frozen fries, is largely based in Flanders, and West Flanders province in particular.
“Families in poverty will be supplied with fresh, local potatoes every week. A positive action in difficult times,” said Crevits.
According to Romain Cools, secretary-general of Belgapom, the potato sector is doing its best to find a destination for the surplus of potatoes.
“Our entire potato chain is happy that thanks to this action, some potatoes are still finding their way to the 460 distribution points of Belgian food banks. In this way we also contribute to providing the weakest in our society with tasty and healthy potatoes.”
Yesterday saw the first 25 tons of potatoes leave the food banks’ central depot in Grimbergen to travel to local distribution points.