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Update: BioTropic offices report in Corona times

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Harvest secured: Orchardist in New Zealand © Lakeview Images / iStock

The fruit and vegetable importer Biotropic, has asked employees across its branches from France to Costa Rica and the Ivory Coast to report on Corona and the situation locally. In Europe the situation has calmed down somewhat, but in other parts of the world the situation is quite different.

Employees are returning from home office

"Everyday life in the Duisburg BioTropic­­­­­­­­ office is slowly returning to normal," reports Sascha Suler, Operations Manager BioTropic Germany. Offices have been modified, there is more space between desks and new partitions have been built and employees are gradually returning after working from home. "People were particularly happy to be able to come back to the office every day," says Sascha Suler. Most employees were able to perform their jobs just as well from home, only a few needed to come into the company daily.

The BioTropic office in Perpignan in France is also fully staffed again. The rooms are large enough to maintain the mandatory distancing. "We are all happy to be able to work together again. The burden from more complicated communication lines has been overcome. Business and processes are running more smoothly again," says operations manager Odile Bouron. The same is also true for BioTropic employees in Spain. Plant manager Pernille Krøyer Dynesen writes in her report: "Our office is fully staffed again. In general, we are happy to be here again. We've seen that working from home works, but it's better in the office." But she and her colleagues were worried about the developments and what would happen now in other countries, especially in "countries not so well prepared as us and that don't have the medical facilities."

Dick Troost, Operations Manager in the Netherlands, reports: "We can't complain about sales. There is high demand for organic fruit and vegetables - people wanted to stay fit. It’s slowly getting back to normal again. Shipping from South America has been varied, with some suppliers having more problems with the number of workers at packing stations than others".

Doris Thewes, Plant Manager at BioTropic in Italy: "People don't want to hear any more Corona news. But then again, it's important that we report what's happening on the other continents."

Restrictions in the field-pack station-port chain

As in Europe, restrictions are being eased in the Ivory Coast: "Schools and public institutions have been continuously open again since last week. At the moment however, the borders are still closed, as are also many institutions, such as the courts," reports the local BioTropic Manager Kuemkwong Siemefo, "not a single case has been detected at our (Ivoire Organics) site so far. So, work and loading will continue, even with all the considerable corona-related restrictions in the field-packing station-port chain, which is why only a small amount of the products can be exported, and this at great additional expense".

Situation out of control

Volker Schmidt is Operations Manager for BioTropic in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. In Costa Rica, the situation has deteriorated considerably. He describes the situation, " the majority of the workforce in the agricultural and service sectors is Nicaraguan, and through labour migration they have brought the disease to the border region. As the Nicaraguan President Ortega unfortunately continues to deny the virus, the numbers infected by the disease in the country have exploded."

According to Volker Schmidt, the entire border region to Nicaragua where the BioTropic employees live, is subject to the strictest regulations: "They go far beyond the lockdown imposed on the entire country in March that have already caused a nationwide economic crisis." The situation is out of control and the local hospitals have reached their limits.

BioTropic has received financial support for Costa Rica from the "Corona Response Fund". This was a time-limited offer from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development for companies like BioTropic that run a public-private partnership. With this money, BioTropic-Costa Rica can cope with the additional costly measures to prevent the spread of infection and are in a position to support the many small farmers and workers who are now without any income.

In the Dominican Republic, measures to ease restrictions have been recently introduced. "This easing is desperately needed to get the economy going again after the lockdown which has brought widespread poverty and hunger, as there is no unemployment support here," said Volker Schmidt.

BioTropic does not have its own office in New Zealand but Hawkes Bay Organics, their export partner reports that all restrictions, with the exception of strict border controls, have now to be lifted. Despite the restrictions, the producers were able to harvest sort and pack the apples and there were also hardly any delays with the loading of the containers onto ships. The last containers were loaded on 9 June and are expected to arrive at the latest in the penultimate week of July.


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