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The impact of COVID-19 on agribusiness and the food industry in African and Asian markets

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As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, concerns over ensuring food security have been voiced in many countries around the world. While the crisis has immediate effects on food and agricultural supply chains, the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is not limited to short-term disruptions in supply and demand.  Considering that the food and agricultural sector accounts for ten percent of global GDP and employs an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide, the outbreak of COVID-19 will likely have far-reaching and noticeable social and economic consequences for the sector.

In order to evaluate those effects, the UNIDO Investment and Technology Promotion Office (ITPO) Germany, in cooperation with the German Agricultural Society (DLG e.V.), and SmartHectar Innovation, initiated an online survey among 800 companies from the European and especially German food and agricultural sector with business activities in African and Southeast Asian markets. The survey was conducted by dimap, the German Institute for Market and Political Research, between June and July 2020. The majority of participants were small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) headquartered in Europe, while a third of the participants represent larger corporations. Two-thirds of the respondents generate more than half of their annual turnover on foreign markets. 

The survey confirmed that the coronavirus pandemic indeed represents a huge challenge to companies operating in the food and agribusiness sectors. While the immediate effects on business operations in African and Southeast Asian markets are still limited, they are already more pronounced in Europe in the form of reduced production and cancelled orders. However, despite the looming crisis, the long-term outlook of most companies remains rather positive, with only about ten percent of respondents pondering layoffs or closing down part of their business in foreign markets. The survey further revealed that many companies see the diversification of their product, supplier and customer base as suitable medium- to long-term strategies to cope with the effects of the crisis. Moreover, one-third of respondents consider expanding their research and development activities as a response to the pandemic.

A majority of SMEs see the opening of new markets and continued international expansion as the right way to adapt to the crisis. Keeping markets open is seen as crucial to ensure global food supplies and to maintain social and economic stability. The respondents are convinced that trade liberalization has to be accompanied by active measures aimed at strengthening local supply chains and facilitating industrial upgrading of agricultural and food-processing industries.

The results of the survey validate the approach of ITPO Germany and its partners in respect of their continued efforts to support technology providers and investors in the food-processing and agricultural sectors in developing countries and emerging markets, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia.

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India’s Opportunity to Become a Global Manufacturing Hub

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Beyond the unprecedented health impact, the COVID‑19 pandemic has been catastrophic for the global economy and businesses and is disrupting manufacturing and Global Value Chains (GVCs), disturbing different stages of the production in different locations around the world. Furthermore, the pandemic has accelerated the already ongoing fundamental shifts in GVCs, driven by the aggregation of three megatrends: emerging technologies; the environmental sustainability imperative; and the reconfiguration of globalization.

In this fast-evolving context, as global companies adapt their manufacturing and supply chain strategies to build resilience, India has a unique opportunity to become a global manufacturing hub. It has three primary assets to capitalize on this unique opportunity: the potential for significant domestic demand, the Indian Government’s drive to encourage manufacturing, and with a distinct demographic edge, including considerable proportion of young workforce.

These factors will position India well for a larger role in GVCs. A thriving manufacturing sector will also generate additional benefits and help India deliver on the imperatives to create economic opportunities for nearly 100 million people likely to enter its workforce in the coming decade, to distribute wealth more equitably and to contain its burgeoning trade deficit.

The World Economic Forum’s new White Paper entitled Shifting Global Value Chains: The India Opportunity, produced in collaboration with Kearney, found India’s role in reshaping GVCs and its potential to contribute more than $500 billion in annual economic impact to the global economy by 2030. The White Paper presents five possible paths forward for India to realize its manufacturing potential.

The insights presented in the White Paper reflect the perspectives of leaders from multiple industries in the region. The five possible solutions include:

· Coordinated action between the government and the private sector to help create globally competitive manufacturing companies

· Shifting focus from cost advantage to building capabilities through workforce skilling, innovation, quality, and sustainability

· Accelerating integration in global value chains by reducing trade barriers and enabling competitive global market access for Indian manufacturers

· Focusing on reducing the cost of compliance and establishing manufacturing capacities faster

· Focusing infrastructure development on cost savings, speed, and flexibility

“For India to become a global manufacturing hub, business and government leaders need to work together to understand ongoing disruptions and opportunities, and develop new strategies and approaches aimed at generating greater economic and social value”, said Francisco Betti, Head of Shaping the Future of Advanced Manufacturing and Production, World Economic Forum.

“A thriving manufacturing sector could potentially be the most critical building block for India’s economic growth and prosperity in the coming decade. The ongoing post-COVID rebalancing of Global Value Chains offers India’s government and business leaders a unique opportunity to transform and accelerate the trajectory of manufacturing sector”, said Viswanathan Rajendran, Partner, Kearney.

This White Paper aims to serve as an initial framework for deliberation and action in the manufacturing ecosystem. The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Kearney, will continue to develop this agenda by working closely with the manufacturing community in India to generate new insights, help inform discussions and strategy decisions, facilitate new partnerships, and provide a platform for exchanges with the global community.

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New Skills Development Key to Further Improving Students’ Learning Outcomes

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Learning outcomes in Russia would benefit significantly from a focus on teaching new skills that are tailored to the modern labor market, says a new World Bank report, New Skills for a New Century: Informing Regional Policy.

Russia’s education system has traditionally been well-performing and efficient, with Russian students appearing among the top performers globally. However, today’s labor market requires “21st century skills” – a combination of skills, knowledge, and expertise that students need to succeed in the modern world.

“Russia’s education system could achieve better teaching and learning outcomes if it focused more on developing 21st-century skills,” says Tigran Shmis, World Bank Senior Education Specialist. “There is a strong relationship between the quality of the school environment, innovative teaching practices, students’ perception of school, and students’ learning outcomes.”

According to the report, 38 percent of Russian schools today are not equipped with workshops and 46 percent do not have scientific laboratories. And, 77 percent of educational institutions do not have dedicated places for integrated lessons that stimulate the development of new skills and team interaction.

The way teaching is delivered, the physical characteristics of the learning environment, and the school’s psychological climate all affect students’ learning results. The study provides an insight into how these factors impact the development of students’ skills, including 21st century and digital skills. Along with data analytics, the study includes a qualitative perspective of modern teaching and learning in Russia, as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on teaching and learning.

“Developing the ability of students to master 21st century skills is critical to ensuring their future employment and career success,” says Renaud Seligmann, World Bank Country Director for Russia. “Studies in Russia have shown that businesses having access to workers with these skills will also be critical for growth and productivity. In turn, high-quality human capital is a cornerstone of the resilience and sustainability of the national economy.”

The report provides recommendations for how schools in Russia can better help students excel. For example, teachers who practice innovative teaching are more likely to drive higher achievement. Modern teaching practices can be supported by expanding the use of technology and enhancing the learning environment in classrooms. Technology should be made available in schools on an equitable basis to improve student learning and enhance teachers’ professional development. Education policymakers should prioritize the prevention of bullying and the development of supporting measures to ensure a positive school climate.

Despite the physical return of students to schools, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing continued learning losses. Therefore, new equipment, ICT, and innovative teaching methods are needed to enable teachers to improve their practices and compensate such learning losses.

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Post-COVID-19, regaining citizen’s trust should be a priority for governments

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The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated governments’ ability to respond to a major global crisis with extraordinary flexibility, innovation and determination. However, emerging evidence suggests that much more could have been done in advance to bolster resilience and many actions may have undermined trust and transparency between governments and their citizens, according to a new OECD report.

Government at a Glance 2021 says that one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that governments will need to respond to future crises at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency. “Looking forward, we must focus simultaneously on promoting the economic recovery and avoiding democratic decline” said OECD Director of Public Governance Elsa Pilichowski. “Reinforcing democracy should be one of our highest priorities.”

 Countries have introduced thousands of emergency regulations, often on a fast track. Some alleviation of standards is inevitable in an emergency, but must be limited in scope and time to avoid damaging citizen perceptions of the competence, openness, transparency, and fairness of government.

 Governments should step up their efforts in three areas to boost trust and transparency and reinforce democracy:

 Tackling misinformation is key. Even with a boost in trust in government sparked by the pandemic in 2020, on average only 51% of people in OECD countries for which data is available trusted their government. There is a risk that some people and groups may be dissociating themselves from traditional democratic processes.

 It is crucial to enhance representation and participation in a fair and transparent manner. Governments must seek to promote inclusion and diversity, support the representation of young people, women and other under-represented groups in public life and policy consultation. Fine-tuning consultation and engagement practices could improve transparency and trust in public institutions, says the report. Governments must also level the playing field in lobbying. Less than half of countries have transparency requirements covering most of the actors that regularly engage in lobbying.

 Strengthening governance must be prioritised to tackle global challenges while harnessing the potential of new technologies. In 2018, only half of OECD countries had a specific government institution tasked with identifying novel, unforeseen or complex crises. To be fit for the future, and secure the foundations of democracy, governments must be ready to act at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency.

 Governments must also learn to spend better, according to Government at a Glance 2021. OECD countries are providing large amounts of support to citizens and businesses during this crisis: measures ongoing or announced as of March 2021 represented, roughly, 16.4% of GDP in additional spending or foregone revenues, and up to 10.5% of GDP via other means. Governments will need to review public spending to increase efficiency, ensure that spending priorities match people’s needs, and improve the quality of public services.

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