Adjust Font Size :

We Need Electronic Documentation Systems: Lessons Learned From The Volcanic Ash

The headlines have been blasting about reopened skies in Europe: Britain Decides It’s Safe to Fly: Skies and Airports Reopen. But the produce and broader perishable food industry experienced great damage from the related suspension of air service: Volcano Ash Cloud Sets Off Global Domino Effect:

• The lack of refrigeration facilities at the airport in capital of the West African nation of Ghana has been a big blow to pineapple and pawpaw farmers who sell to Europe because of the lack of flights. As of Tuesday, no cargo flights have taken off yet.

• In Kenya, thousands of day laborers are out of work because produce and flowers can’t be exported amid the flight cancellations. Kenya has thrown away 10 million flowers — mostly roses — since the volcano eruption. Asparagus, broccoli and green beans meant for European dinner tables are being fed to Kenyan cattle because storage facilities are filled to capacity.

• In New York City’s Flower District, thousands of dollars worth of tulips, peonies, daffodils and hundreds of other varieties usually come in on the Friday night flights from the Netherlands to be distributed starting Saturday morning. Last weekend’s weddings didn’t have Dutch flowers.

• Swiss supermarket Migros warned of diminishing supplies of green asparagus during the beloved vegetable’s peak season amid halted air deliveries from the United States. Cod from Iceland and fresh tuna filets from Vietnam and the Philippines could also run out, it warned.

• Italian farmers’ lobby Coldiretti said each workday without flights costs euro10 million (about $14 million) as mozzarella and fresh fruits risk going bad.

The Federation of Association of Ghanaian Exporters (FAGE) saw the disaster as a moment to implore Ghanaians to start eating Asian vegetables and various fruits so the producers would not be wholly dependent on export markets:

We must learn to consume our
own produce — FAGE

The Federation of Association of Ghanaian Exporter’s ((FAGE) says the negative impact of the prevailing flight disruptions as a result of the Icelandic volcanic ash on the activities of local exporters of fresh produce offers useful lessons for the country as a whole.

The association says the phenomenon should be a clarion-call to the entire country on the imperative need to develop taste and a more extensive market for the locally-produced fruits and vegetables usually bound for export.

FAGE says this is crucial for the economic development of the country as if it were to be the case, the country’s affected export sub-sector would have somewhat been insulated against the harsh impact of the inevitable occurrence by way of a high local demand for the fresh produce.

It explained this would have gone a long way to avert the lay-off of workers in and the suspension of business activity with the suppliers of the affected companies like Blue Skies.

The association indicated that it would have also saved the exporters the several thousands of Pounds lost so far and thereby consolidate the country’s foreign exchange receipts.

The President of FAGE, Anthony Sikpa told Citi Business we do not consume most of the Asian vegetables here and as a country we need to learn to consume and develop taste for our own production…its not that these vegetables are not exotic, it is just not part of our diet.”

He added that “some vegetables are not consumed here though some Chinese restaurants may be using it, it is usually exported to Europe and we haven’t even developed serious taste for fruits. Most local restaurants do not even serve dessert not to talk of offer it for you to make a choice.”

Andrew Sharp, Business Development Director of Mack Multiples (UK) and a member of the board of directors of PMA, sent us this note in the midst of the crisis:

Biggest issue is people stuck around the world… The produce business has a lot of travelers and there are key people stuck in far flung places…

Europe resembles a war zone with people fleeing the Dust, heading to Transit Points and traversing France.

The channel Ferries have never had it so good… this would be a good stock to buy.

The other point is that all the documents we fly around the world, bills of lading, etc., are stuck, which means we can’t get to some of our fruit even though the containers are in the ports!

An electronic solution is needed desperately!

Andreas Schindler, Sales and Purchase Manager of the German produce importer Pilz Schindler and Director of the Don Limón brand, had this to say in the middle of the mess:

Concerning the ash-cloud here in Europe, we are affected mostly by the closing of nearly all airports in Europe. Nobody expected something like this. Even when it came up we expected maybe one day. But now we are blocked already 4 days. Completely — there is not one plane on the heaven.

We look at each other like … Hey, what is going on? Nobody has a concept for this case. And we do not know how long it will be blocked. And how it will go on after.

My brother is stuck in Madrid, and I wanted to fly to Mexico this weekend. My colleagues wanted to fly to Russia tomorrow….. Everything is blocked.

The mobility of the people by air is totally interrupted. The train stations are in a chaos.

Click the 12 photos with “Weiter

The internal transport of Europe is nearly 100 % by truck. There is not any problem.

Only exotic fruits from Latin America, Asia or Africa are blocked — like mango, mange-tout and other “little” fruits. Also the berries are not coming in.

Coming in from outside is a problem. The internal transport in Europe is not affected.

Exporters from overseas, focused on perishable fruits — transported by air — are heavily affected.

And we also received a report from Marc de Naeyer, Managing Partner of TROFI, who has contributed frequently to both the Pundit and sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS as with the following pieces:

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Tyranny Of Economics And The Goals Of Fairtrade

Pundit’s Mailbag — A European Provides Food For Thought In 2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Fairtrade From A European Perspective

Pundit’s Mailbag — Global Warming’s Shameful Marketing Attempts

Pundit’s Mailbag — Translation Way Cool!

E.U. Expansion And Residue Reduction

Global Warming Will Not Go Quietly

Marc had this to say:

We used to do a lot of tropicals by air in the good old days — now it is mostly grapes, pineapples, melons, mangoes and avocados by sea.

Due to this shift in our business, we have been “lucky” so far as we do only marginal airfreight imports these days. But everybody is running out of stocks quickly: the losses for growers and exporters in places like Kenya are staggering. I read an article this morning in the International Herald Tribune/New York Times — which quoted exporters losing as much as $3 million a day in Kenya.

Kenya also exports thousands of tons of vegetables weekly (baby corn, extra fine beans, sugar snaps etc.) to the continent and UK. Other exotic imports from places such as Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc., have also come to a standstill.

On the other end of the spectrum is the export of Dutch vegetables to nations such as the Middle East and USA, which have caused tremendous losses.

The one major issue we as importers of seafreighted produce have to deal with is the fact that DHL/Fed Ex et al., are not delivering our documentation from the countries of origin. Fortunately, customs and phyto authorities are cooperating and temporarily agree to accept copies so we can get import goods cleared.

There is some indication that had authorities and airlines done better emergency planning, it may have not been necessary to impose a blanket ban on air travel. The Wall Street Journal ran a piece pointing out that Alaska Airlines had learned to deal with volcanic ash in a piece titled, How One Airline Skirts the Ash Clouds:

Alaska Airlines knows volcanic ash. Its decades of experience navigating around volcanic eruptions in Washington and Alaska could prove useful as airlines return to Europe’s ash-plagued skies.

Among the lessons: Pilot training, computer modeling to accurately predict ash trajectories and regular testing of the skyways when eruptions occur are crucial to maintaining safety and keeping planes flying. The Alaska Airlines experience suggests a volcanic eruption in Iceland doesn’t have to ground all flights in Northern Europe — there are ways to work around it.

Planes took to the skies across much of Europe on Tuesday, five days after the volcanic eruption under the Eyjafjallajokull (ay-yah-FYAH’-tlah-yer-kuh-duhl) glacier in Iceland grounded thousands of flights and caused massive travel disruptions. It isn’t clear whether flights could have resumed sooner. But that’s mainly because government officials, weather experts and airlines didn’t put their heads together to determine where the ash was, and where it wasn’t.

Instead, the Iceland crisis resulted in a blanket closure of a huge swath of airspace, rather than a more targeted, scientific approach in which some routes are found to be clear of ash and left open. Governments were slow to understand the world-wide impact of the shutdown and based decisions to close airspace on theoretical models with little data collected or few tests done, complained Giovanni Bisignani, director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, a Geneva-based airline-industry group.

Once tests were started, he said, some airspace that had been closed proved to be clean of ash. Had tests been run earlier in the crisis, large-scale flight operations could have continued, according to IATA.

“Nobody called for help,” Mr. Bisignani said.

This would have been a disaster in any event but among those we could control is the antiquated requirement for original documents to be curried around the world.

Nowadays even checks are not returned to people because digital copies are certified and accepted. There is not a reason in the world we couldn’t do that with shipping documents.

Many thanks to Andrew Sharp of Mack Multiples, Andreas Schindler of Don Limon and Marc de Naeyer of TROFI for helping to capture the experience of those caught in the midst of the battle.

Let us hope the authorities at least learn something from the disaster and move ahead with an electronic document process.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Latest from Jim Prevor's Perishable Pundit