2021 Global Food Policy Report

S Asia shows resilience of agriculture, food systems in pandemic

Staff Correspondent

9 July, 2021 12:00 AM printer

The 2021 Global Food Policy Report has found unexpected resilience of agriculture and food systems in South Asia during the first wave of Covid-19 pandemic period.

The severe health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted food systems and upended livelihoods. Yet pandemic responses have also demonstrated the power of well-crafted policies to blunt the impact of major shocks while laying the groundwork for stronger, more resilient food systems, according to the 2021 Global Food Policy Report.

A virtual event was co-organised by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) South Asia, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) on Thursday, to present the highlights of the report in the South Asian context.

 “We have known for a while now that there are major problems with our food systems, that they are unequal and unsustainable,” said Johan Swinnen, director general of IFPRI. “This crisis has revealed these problems in a way that none of us can ignore, but it has also demonstrated that we have effective ways to address these problems”.

“The Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) 2021, highlights that the countries in the region did much better than the expert predictions in terms of economic performance, food price stabilization, and protecting livelihoods. However, the report also cautioned that there’s no room for complacency, which unfortunately turned out to be true during the second wave that overwhelmed health systems and significantly disrupted livelihoods”, said Shahidur Rashid, Director- IFPRI, South Asia.  Rashid went on to caution that the region is still reeling under the devastating impact of the second wave, “While vaccinations have been ramped up and the caseloads have slowly declined, there are uncertainties as to how things will play out in the region for agriculture and food systems”. 

The report underscores that the pandemic has revealed both resilience and vulnerabilities in South Asian food systems.

Across the region, the agriculture sector grew, food prices remained relatively stable, and no food security crisis was reported during the first wave.

This resilience can largely be attributed to the region’s decades investments in infrastructure and institutions for social transfers and safety nets programs, as well as the expansion of many of these programs. Surveys conducted by IFPRI found that public transfer systems for food, security, health, and nutrition have largely performed well in the region.

In India the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) effectively reached smallholder farmers. Similar safety net programs, like Pakistan’s EHSAAS program, which provides direct cash transfers to about 80 million people, extended additional coverage to 6 million families during the pandemic.

In Bangladesh, the government increased the social protection budget from 2.9 percent of national GDP in 2019/20 to 3.01 percent in response to the pandemic.

One of the key vulnerabilities that the pandemic illuminated is the fragility of many South Asian labor markets, especially in the nonfarm and informal sectors which are vital for both economic and food systems transformation.

The report finds that South Asia’s international remittance inflows also proved vulnerable. As of December 2020, remittance flows had declined by about US$10 billion for the region.

 “Agriculture and food systems in South Asia have demonstrated unexpected resilience in the face of the pandemic. Therefore, it’s important that the vulnerabilities of these sectors are addressed at the same time keeping in consideration that the region must not lose sight of the structural challenges to transforming economic and food systems”, said Rashid.