NAESS ( Nepal Agricultural Engineering Student Society) has organized an online article writing competition on “Effect of Pandemic in food supply and it’s mitigating measures”.
The articles written by Hemraj Lamichhane and Rashmi Gyawali were announced as Winner and Runner Up respectively.
Winner Article by Hemraj Lamichhane
Pandemic: an infectious disease occurring over a wide geographical area, Coronavirus has turned out to be pandemic at the present situation. The coronavirus outbreak has been labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus is capable to infect from person to person in an efficient and sustained way. Vaccine and treatment to this virus is in the development phase.
In December 2019, a pneumonia outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China. On 31 December 2019, the outbreak was traced to a novel strain of coronavirus, which was given the interim name 2019-nCoV by the World Health Organization (WHO), later renamed SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. As 6 April 2020, there have been at least 69,444 confirmed deaths and more than 1,273,990 confirmed cases in the coronavirus pneumonia pandemic.
COVID-19 is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus2. Common symptoms of this virus include, high fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscles pain, diarrhea, sore throat, loss of smell and abdominal pain. Viral pneumonia and multi-organ failure are some mild symptoms. The virus mainly spreads during close contact and by small droplets produced when people cough, sneeze or talk. The virus can survive on surfaces up to 72 hours. This can be easily transmitted during the first three days after symptom onset. In some people, COVID-19 may affect the lungs causing pneumonia. Some cases may result respiratory failure, septic shock, or multi organ failure, abnormal clotting, and damage to the heart, kidney, and liver.
Some measures to prevent infection includes frequent hand washing, social distancing, covering with a tissue or inner elbow during coughing and sneezing, and keeping unwashed hands away from face. Alcohol based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is recommended to apply on the palm of hands to kill reduce the effect of virus. The use of N-95 mask is strictly recommended. Currently, vaccine or specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19 is not available. Treatment of symptoms, supportive care, isolation and experimental measures is applicable to infected ones. Various agencies are actively working to develop vaccine against the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the 2019-20 coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020 and a pandemic on 11 March 2020.
The novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, is challenging the risk of food scarcity. As former International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Director General, Shenggen Fan, writes, “COVID-19 is a health crisis. But it could also lead to a food security crisis if proper measures are not taken.” COVID-19 has a direct impact on the supply and price gouging of foods in the places affected by the virus. So far, outbreak of corona virus has led to increase in global food prices. In many developing countries, millions of families already spend upwards of half of their income on food in normal circumstances. During this critical stage, developing countries are in the stage to face undernutrition. It is the result of farmers leaving their fields or facing delay in sowing and harvesting because of illness and breakdowns in non-food supply chains like fertilizer and other inputs. This has greater impact in the economy of developing countries. Economic decline has major impacts on poverty and food insecurity. Mostly in middle-income countries, economy has slowed down and hunger has increased. Economic decline, poverty and food insecurity is increasing day by day. COVID-19 has caused to break the supply chains which will surely result the scarcity and war for food among the people. COVID-19 pandemic causes to close the border, travel restrictions and complexity in supply chain. Restrictions for movement plays a big role to challenge the supply of food materials in some of the most vulnerable countries.
How to mitigate the risk of food scarcity?
Food Supply chain is a complex web of producers, inputs, transportation, processing plants and so on. To stop the spreading of virus, government is locked down the states and countries and trying to aware people to stay at home. This will result in less production due to reduction of labour force. Transport restrictions and quarantine are likely to create disturbance to farmers for input and output, productive capacities and market quality. This may cause shortage of labour which hampers the production and processing of food directly. Blockages to transport obstructs for fresh supply chains and increases food losses and wastages. On the other side it increases the demand of food among consumers during this period. This may degrade the health of people altering the diet plans.
Government and other agency must pay attention towards this impact of food supply during this critical situation and some suitable measures must be implemented in order to solve the problems caused due to COVID-19 in food supply. Government and civil society should work together to provide food to children and old peoples through food banks and local community groups. Strengthening food production and distribution system is key agent to fight against hunger and enables to tackle diseases. Mitigating measures of the pandemic’s impact on food and agriculture is a most important topic at present globally. Safeguarding the food security and livelihood of affected and non – affected families is much important at this stage. Food needs to move across borders with no restrictions and in compliance with existing food safety standards without endangering the lives of suppliers and consumers. To mitigate the pandemic’s impacts on food and agriculture, affected countries must meet the immediate food needs of their vulnerable populations, boost their social protection programs, continue global food trade, keep the domestic supply chains moving and support farmers’ ability to increase food production. At the same time, it is necessary to follow good hygiene practices i.e., wash hands and surfaces, separate raw meat from other foods, cook up to the optimum temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly when handling and preparing food in order to stay safe from viruses. At the same distribution of food supply should to be rational to every people. Investment in agricultural sector is in high demand stage at this critical situation. Online sales can be implemented effectively with application of safety measures. Additionally, supply chain leaders should work with their legal policies to deliver supply to consumers and provide guidance and medical insurance to employees located in impacted areas. Focus should be rapidly increased on balancing supply and demand. Alternative sources and diversification of value chains are the most important assets to be discovered.
The coronavirus pandemic has wide ranging and severe impacts on financial markets, including stocks and commodity markets. The quarantine of millions of people along with road closures and public transit shutdown made it more difficult to physically get to stores to buy food. Digital technologies should be implemented to secure or tighten the supply chain. Maintaining the quarantine and opening up all industries is needed to lower the risk of scarcity of food and keep the agricultural ecosystem going. The economic linkages that ensure food production, harvest and transport is most likely to be protected. Additionally, in order to lessen the impact of low nutrition and maintaining diet home cooked meals along with limited salt, sugar and fat intake must be practiced to lower the risk of attacking by virus.
Runner Up Article by Rashmi Gyawali
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned the impact of pandemic (i.e. COVID-19 in current situation) on global food supply chain in a notice on their website writing; “We risk a looming food crisis unless measures are taken fast to protect the most vulnerable, keep global food supply chains alive and mitigate the pandemic’s impact across the food system.”
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Executive Secretary said, “The consequences of the COVID-19 crisis will be particularly severe on vulnerable groups especially to women and adults, and those working in the informal sector who have no access to social protection and unemployment insurance.”
The lockdowns, restriction of transportations, shuttering of schools and border closures imposed around the world to limit the spread of coronavirus are impacting and disrupting food supply chains leading to slowdown in the shipping industry, as many countries implement tighter controls on cargo. And the hardest hit will be on the world’s most vulnerable people, including 300+ million children who rely on school meals as their one reliable meal of the day and worst that can happen is that governments restrict the flow of food supplies. Vulnerable rural and coastal populations whose agricultural and fisheries-based livelihoods are affected and experiencing high levels of hunger. Illness-related labour shortages, transport interruptions, quarantine measures limiting access to markets and supply chain disruptions results in food loss and waste and can change people’s eating pattern results in poorer nutrition.
Panic buying of goods and food materials resulted in shortages during the lockdown period emptying shelves contributed to clearance of essential daily required goods and is resulting in price gouging in many scenarios. First in China, stores, restaurants, KFCs, McDonalds were closed and Lunar New Year celebrations became worse resulting in loss of high economy which represented a huge percentage of the economy. Just like in China, all across the globe, it is affecting the economy, moreover the food supply chain and people are trying out new ideas in an attempt to survive where hunger affects the most.
In Nepalese context, domestic food supply chains are no less imperiled, involving a complex web of farmers and farm labourers, as well as fertilizers, seeds and veterinary medicines, processing plants, freight distributors, retailers, etc. Smallholder farmers are some of the worst affected by food insecurity, due to their low incomes. People who sell their goods for living on the roadside, farmers who aren’t getting any facilities for supplying their produced goods, sellers who sell and all the food suppliers’ chain is being affected the most. Lockdown prevents farmers’ access to markers to buy inputs and sell products as well as impacting the availability of labour at peak seasonal times, leading to unsold food and a loss of income. The string of events is leading to a huge increase in hunger and scarcity of food. Tourists and ice cream producers are the main buyers of strawberries, but there are no tourists now. There are no buyers of flowers, grapes aren’t being consumed in the wine industry and farmers are failing to sell them who spent thousands on their crops. Cattles are getting treated to broccoli and other vegetables that farmers are struggling to transport and sell them in cities amid the lockdown.
What action can be taken to lessen the impact of food shortage and crisis?
According to ESCWA, reducing food loss and waste by 50 percent wouldn’t only increase household income by some $20 billion across the world, but also significantly improve food availability, reduce food imports and improve the balance of trade throughout the region. Governments need to conduct transparent dialogues with businesses, technical agencies and civil society to address the emerging risks and need to build global mechanisms committees to prevent a nutrition crisis. Moreover, governments should establish or strengthen social-protection mechanisms to protect the most vulnerable group of peoples who depend on feeding programs and are most susceptible to food insecurity. Everyone must show solidarity so that indigenous peoples, family farmers, and producers continue to plant, harvest, transport and sell their products without endangering safety. Governments and private sector providers should work together to secure essential food stocks during the periods when normal supplies of food may be disrupted and ensure that the people obtain food they need.
Proper awareness programs should be done in public about the critical need to prepare for food shortages at the household level and increase of household and community food production can mitigate the food scarce. Distribution of vitamin supplements by governmental and nongovernmental organizations can help in lessening the impact of low nutrition. Avoiding protectionism, monitoring prices and supporting the vulnerable through social safety can limit the impact of outbreak and also help in food security. Monitoring food prices and markets and sharing relevant information transparently will strengthen government policies and prevent people from panicking. More importantly, the most vulnerable countries and populations should be supported not just by providing medical care but also assistance through safety nets that have the flexibility to respond to shocks. With continued support of donors, The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) can contribute to providing support, helping societies and families recover faster after the pandemic.