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Food insecurity declines to pre-pandemic levels

  • Staff Correspondent
  • 28 December, 2021 12:00 AM
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Food insecurity declines to pre-pandemic levels

Moderate to severe food insecurity, which tripled in early months of the coronavirus pandemic driven by income losses and difficulties accessing food, has returned largely to the pre-pandemic levels in the country, manifesting an improvement in food security, according to a latest survey.

However, the prevalence of “any food insecurity” has remained persistently higher than the pre-pandemic period, it says.

As per the study, the rate of moderate to severe food insecurity in January and September-October this year was the same as the pre-pandemic level.

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Cornell University conducted three national surveys in rural Bangladesh to understand changes in food security during the Covid-19 pandemic with the latest one being carried out in September and October last.

These surveys have tracked the experiences of Bangladeshi households in terms of unemployment, income losses, food insecurity and coping mechanisms during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Whereas the majority of rural households reported being fully food secure before the pandemic, fewer than one in three households in September-October this year reported the same.

Nearly two out of three rural households during the period worried about not having enough food, and more than half of rural households reported buying food on credit or borrowing money to buy food.

Although rural households have shown remarkable resilience in terms of food security to Bangladesh’s devastating 2nd wave of Covid-19, including the surge of cases, hospitalisations, deaths and associated lockdowns in 2021, far too many rural households remain in a precarious and stressful situation.

For the prevalence of rural food insecurity across these four survey rounds, they focused first on moderate to severe food insecurity.

About 14.9 percent of rural households were moderately or severely food insecure before the pandemic. However, moderate or severe food insecurity had more than tripled to about 45.1 percent by June 2020.

The proportion of moderately or severely food insecure households had largely returned to pre-pandemic levels by January 2021, according to the survey.

The September-October 2021 survey showed no further meaningful change despite the strict national lockdown imposed in July-August this year. However, a different picture emerged when the prevalence of mild food insecurity was included.

The proportion of households reporting any food insecurity (mild, moderate of severe) increased from the pre-pandemic average of 45.7 percent to 87.8 percent in June 2020 before declining to 70.9 percent in January 2021 and 68 percent in September-October 2021.

A large majority of rural households are understandably worried about their access to food, given that their coping strategies are not sustainable over the longer term. Households cannot indefinitely buy food on credit or borrow money.

The survey shows that a substantial share of rural households reported receiving social safety net assistance this year.

However, this assistance was not able to fully offset the increases in mild food insecurity. It is increasingly clear that the global risks from Covid-19 may continue for the near future. In light of this reality, ongoing and expanded safety net support may be important to help rural households sustainably cope with risks of the pandemic and restore higher levels of food security.

Akhter Ahmed, senior research fellow (Poverty, Health and Nutrition) and country representative for Bangladesh at IFPRI; M Mehrab Bakhtiar, associate research of the division and acting country representative for Bangladesh at IFPRI, and Daniel Gilligan, senior research fellow and deputy director of the division at IFPRI, among others, conducted the research.