Monday, 18 October, 2021
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Tackling Challenges of Covid-19 for Food Security

Dr. M. Jamal Uddin

Tackling Challenges of Covid-19 for Food Security
Dr. M. Jamal Uddin

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Covid-19 and climate change are two global crises, and both are global challenges. Addressing the twin challenge of Covid-19 and climate change for sustainable agriculture and food security in South Asia is becoming increasingly important, because climate change has begun to destroy agriculture. Food security is threatened in many parts of the world. Covid-19 has further disrupted agricultural activities and supply chain. It has become a serious threat to public health. Like many developing countries, farmers in South Asia are now facing the dual challenge of tackling the effects of climate change and the disruption caused by Covid-19. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us that in this interdependent world, "no one is safe until everyone is safe."

Agriculture and food security are linked to both climate change and Covid-19, because a healthy diet and a healthy environment are important in dealing with pandemic. About 60% of the population in South Asia is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. Farmers in South Asia have to feed more than 20% of the world's population with only 5% of the world's agricultural land. Countries in the region faced multiple challenges to food insecurity and underdeveloped public health before the Covid-19 pandemic. Nearly 300 million people in South Asia are still severely food insecure; with 36% of children under the age of 5 in the region are suffering from malnutrition and 16% from severe malnutrition. About 40% of the world's stunted children are in South Asia.

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc in the region. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal face difficult challenges in controlling the spread of the virus. As a result, more than half of the people will be driven into poverty due to economic consequences. The complex interaction of Covid-19 and climate change has fatally affected six dimensions of food security, namely, food availability, accessibility, stability, utilization, agency and sustainability. Note that the HLPE Global narrative report has recently added two more dimensions to food security: agency and sustainability. The two challenges that South Asian farmers are currently facing need to be examined and addressed in the following ways:

Strengthening the response capacity of the health sector is essential for emergencies. Healthy food, water and sanitation are needed to increase health protection against Covid-19 and other health threats. This requires a concerted approach to planning and action, as well as strategic approaches. Making agriculture resilient to pandemics would be an important strategy to strengthen local and regional food systems. Expanding and strengthening the social safety nets is an important to protect vulnerable communities. Food support programs that ensure adequate access to healthy foods, and not just adequate calorie intake, should be designed.

Adopting flexible, smart approaches needs to continue normal food production. In addition to maintaining physical distance and incorporating the necessary health and safety measures flexibility is needed to increase labour sourcing, labour mobility and working hours. For example, the Bangladesh government subsidized the purchase of harvesters to overcome the labour crisis during the rice harvest. This will reduce the additional dependence on food imports. Ensuring access to more diverse and nutritious food for the urban poor is important for creating livelihoods and employment.

Keep the supply chain functioning and efficient during emergencies. To ensure the movement of food and agricultural inputs during emergencies, the authorities need to identify and develop special channels and standardized effective practices to keep the supply chain running and efficient. For example, the Bangladesh government has taken special measures to ensure the transportation of agricultural workers during the rice harvest which has helped to reduce crop damage. Local agencies, institutions and platforms should be strengthened. The government should invest in improved regional market infrastructure at the local, regional and national levels and not rely on a single source to reduce fragility in the event of a supply disruption.

Prioritizing climate-smart agricultural interventions on different scales need to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 on food systems. In identifying adaptation measures, special attention needs to be paid to improving the livelihoods and adaptive capacity of farmers as well as conserving the natural resources required for public health and food production. It is important to identify integrated options that coordinate the food system and public health. The government should develop appropriate policies and strategies, and provide technical and institutional support and incentives to farmers and communities, so that sustainable food systems could be ensured.

Improving sustainability is one of the major dimensions of food security. Excessive use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture and unsustainable use of groundwater and energy have led to high emissions, water pollution, air pollution, water scarcity, energy scarcity, loss of biodiversity and serious impact on human health. Reducing GHG emissions requires increasing sustainability in agriculture and creating resilience in food production, processing and trading. It is important to optimize the management of water, air, soil and ecosystems necessary for sustainable food production and healthy supply.

Improving productivity and resource use efficiency in agriculture and the food systems could be reduce food production gaps, and improve resource conservation and utilization efficiency. Favourable agricultural policy environment is needed to manage shocks and vulnerabilities. An enabling environment should be created through coordination of government policy, financial investment and institutional arrangements. To keep the supply chain operational during Covid-19, the value chain actors should be supported by the government so that they can adequately deal with future pandemics and other challenges.

Research and innovation are essential for increasing the efficiency and resilience of the food system. The government should fund advanced research, knowledge and innovation to improve agriculture and food systems that meet nutritional needs, strengthen public health and conserve resources, protect ecosystems and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This requires strengthening agricultural extension programs to develop innovative public health and environmentally friendly agro-food systems.

 

The writer is an Agricultural Economist, Former Consultant of FAO & UNDP; Senior Scientist, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI). E-mail: [email protected]