LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Supply chains all over the world are broken or backed up because of the coronavirus pandemic. The food industry is deeply affected because of restaurant closures. Out in the farmland of Belgium, which imposed lockdown measures March 18, Teri Schultz hears a plea for help.
TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: The Belgian potato industry is crying out. SOS - save our spuds.
(SOUNDBITE OF FORKLIFT DUMPING POTATOES)
SCHULTZ: How much do you think is in here right now?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Four thousand tons.
SCHULTZ: I'm on the front line of this crisis, atop a mountain of potatoes that are only edible six more weeks. There are 750,000 tons of excess piled up in warehouses like this one. So Belgians are urgently being called to engage in an act of national solidarity.
ROMAIN COOLS: What we like to do is that all the Belgians have an extra fry now to get out of this problem.
SCHULTZ: Romain Cools is the head of the national potato processors association Belgapom. He started this campaign to have one extra serving per week. He wants you to pitch in, too.
COOLS: We make an appeal to the rest of the world also to eat more spuds. And preferentially, we would like to have them eating Belgian fries.
SCHULTZ: Belgium is the world's top exporter of frozen potato products, but many of the biggest buyers are restaurants, which have been shut down for weeks in Belgium and beyond. That's a huge concern for Jolien Mylle, who shows me around the factory in Mouscron founded by her grandfather.
JOLIEN MYLLE: And they're washed. They're grated.
SCHULTZ: We're talking in front of a big sign bearing the company's slogan, the happy potato family. But Mylle says the family is very worried.
MYLLE: Our business is 70% in food service. We export to over 130 countries in the world. A lot of restaurants are closed down, so our sales are going down as well.
SCHULTZ: But those farmers who grow primarily potatoes destined for the free market have the biggest problems. Due to the backup, crops are currently selling for about one-twentieth of pre-pandemic prices. With freezers full in storehouses, supermarkets and consumers' kitchens, Cools says it's time for Belgian fry-lovers to act, even at personal sacrifice.
COOLS: I love, also, pasta and pizza, but for this time, it has to go. I'm sorry (laughter).
SCHULTZ: Just take an extra bag home, he says, and then maybe an extra jog.
For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in Brussels.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.