Methods of Social Research

Apples and Flowers. Effects of Pandemics on the (Re-)Organization of Commodity Chains for Fresh Agricultural Products

In the DFG project "Apples and Flowers. Impact of pandemics on the (re)organisation of commodity chains for fresh produce" we are investigating the impact of the external shock of the Covid-19 pandemic on the (re)organisation of commodity chains for two fresh agricultural products (apples and flowers). We will conduct a step-by-step analysis in three work packages and ask:

  1. How were commodity chains organized and spatially structured before the Covid-19 crisis and what challenges did they face during the crisis?
  2. Who are the driving forces of these changes? That is: Who are powerful actors in the chain (consumers, retailers, intermediaries, agricultural producers) and where are they located? Who acted when, why and with what effects as a consequence of the Covid-19 crisis?
  3. What short-term effects (during the crisis) and long-term effects (after the crisis) does this have on the effects on the spatial organization of the chain and on the actors of the chain?


In applying value chain mapping, the commodity chain can be reconstructed step by step. However, for this to be possible, one needs to further focus both the product type and the type commodity chain to be analyzed. In our project, starting from consumers and retailers, we will systematically compare how commodity chains for two products – namely apples and flowers – are being re-organized in the context of the Covid-19 crisis. The reason why we chose apples and flowers is that for both, demand is more or less constant in all seasons and they are cultivated both in the Global North and in the Global South – which opens the possibility for changes in the spatial organization of the chain. In the past, both products were mainly produced close to the consumers’ locations, but during the last decades, more and more producers from the Global South – using their comparative advantages in production – have been entering the market and are delivering their products to countries in the Global North. This allows us to analyze one short and one long commodity chain for each product, resulting in four contrasting case studies: (1) the Kenyan-German Flower Chain, (2) the Dutch-German Flower Chain, (3) the Chilean-German Apple Chain and (4) the German-German Apple Chain.

Research Design and data collection

By systematically comparing the changes in these four chains and analyzing their mutual entanglements, we will predict the short-term and long-term effects of the crisis. We will achieve this by combining the approach of value chain mapping with the methodological approach for process-oriented macro-micro-analysis developed by Baur. For both approaches, a mixed method approach  is necessary that not only combines various qualitative with quantitative methods but also primary data (interviews, ethnography) with documentary data.

Funding Period

2021 – 2024


16./17.06.2022, Conference "Production, Retailing and Consumption of Food Commodity Chains before and after Covid-19 ", Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany