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Panic might create food crisis in the country

To contain the spread of COVID-19, countries around the globe have enforced lockdowns. It has resulted in closure of most of the industries and created havoc on the global economy. It is very human nature that we try our best that we have enough food supplies. We rush to supermarkets to buy as much food supply as possible. This has put the food market industry under tremendous pressure.

COVID-19 is not only harming global food security, but it could lead to severe consequences. One possible implication beyond food insecurity is the rise in violence and conflict. Analysts are predicting Africa and Asia as more vulnerable.

As of now, the global markets for basic cereals are well supplied, and prices are not skyrocketing. As compared to the 2006-2007 global food crisis, the situation is very different this time. Food scarcity is not a dilemma, but the problem is the movement of the food from world food basket markets to where they are needed. The pandemic is disturbing the food market equilibrium by disrupting the supply chain. It is affecting both the supply side and the demand side.

Transportations restrictions, shortage of labor, and farmers’ limited access to the market are shifting paradigms in agricultural production. The food supply chain mainly consists of two food groups; cereal group (wheat, rice, soybeans, corn, etc.) and fresh produce group (vegetables and fruits). In developed countries, the cereal group is heavily mechanized; hence would not be affected by the shortage of labor. But for vegetable and fruits, all depends upon labor force.

Around 70% of Pakistan’s small farmers rely on traditional farm laborers, who come from the remote or the low-income areas before the harvesting season. They could not make it this time due to weeks-long lockdown. But in the absence of labor and means of transportation due to lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19 or coronavirus, millions of farmers are staring at another disaster, watching their produce rotting in their fields.

The economists have cautioned the government that if COVID-19 pandemic prolonged then it would impact perishable food items first and then the staple food. For an uninterrupted food supply, they recommended to the government that it must maintain the provision of inputs to farmers, mobility of labour in the agriculture sector, and shipment of food from farm to markets and market to retailers.

During current circumstances, Pakistan could face food security challenges. This could happen not only due to food shortage but also because of the panic created by people through different sources including social networks. The rumors which people are spreading because of COVID-19 (coronavirus) on social media, could potentially lead to a big food crisis. This negative attitude on social networks could bring horrible results resulting famine like situation. And make people more poor, hungry and malnourished.

Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments are trying their level best to stop this virus from spreading in the country but the pattern which has been seen in Europe and other parts of the world, it is forecasted that it could outbreak. Different reports identify that the countries which become epicenters of this pandemic are because of not following precautionary steps against this virus.

Few weeks back, Pakistan had faced a wheat and sugar crisis; which seems to be a result of a scam. Good fortunately, until this date, all is well and no news is reported about the non-availability of essential any food items. Similarly any food shortage or a drastic increase in prices were reported.

 

The federal government is closely coordinating with the provincial governments for the procurement and stocking of wheat. Also Pakistan has adequate stock of rice. Pakistan is annually producing approximately 7.4 million tons of rice, which puts Pakistan in the list of top 10 rice-producing country of the world. Additionally, the government is taking strict measures against hoarding. In short, there is no food shortage in the country, but in order to prepare for the worst conditions; the state should pay more attention to the availability of food items, especially wheat, cooking oil and sugar.

Available data suggests that the COVID-19 outbreak has not impacted the food prices yet, except for some impacts on the prices of pulses. The possible spread of the coronavirus to the rural areas and widening lockdowns may disrupt distribution channels affecting the food prices. It is interesting to note that among pulses, the prices of moong and masoor have increased. It is mainly due to the increase in demand as pulses are easy to store for a longer period. The price of maash shows a decline, but that has taken place only during the last two days of the study period. In contrast to pulses, prices of broiler chicken have declined between 14 to 24 percent in three major markets of Punjab, namely Rawalpindi, Lahore and Faisalabad, mainly due to the dwindling demands.

Prices of the chosen fruits, namely strawberry, guava, apples, banana and orange, show a mix trend. Highly increasing and decreasing price trends are observed in orange (34%) and strawberry (47%), respectively. However the prices of bananas and guava are having usual price fluctuations from 3% to 5%.

In the coming days, the effect of lockdown and restrictions on the movement of people can result in a decline in food items production and supply. Moreover, slower economic growth could also affect people’s food security in large.

In order to make food security for Pakistani people, few important decisions at the national and province level could be taken. Following actions could help to reduce the chances of chaos in Pakistan:

  • Strict actions must be taken by the government for spreading false news about COVID-19 pandemic and wild speculations in the stock and commodity markets on social networks. In this regard the Cybercrime Act, 2016 could be more strengthened and be implemented in true spirit.
  • The government should make sure that everyone has access to enough nutritious food.
  • The government should adopt a fair and transparent digital system for the dissemination of information about food items.
  • Food production must be secure by fulfilling all requirements of farmers and allied industry, such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery, etc.
  • The government must announce incentives for farmers and food-related industries.
  • Finally, the government should make a conducive environment in the larger interest of the country, where government and opposition should work together to prevent food security challenge, otherwise the whole nation will face a horrible situation.
The author is an Assistant professor at Bahria University, Karachi Campus. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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