NAESS : Effect of Pandemic in food supply and it’s mitigating measures

NAESS Nepal

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.

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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.  

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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.

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