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Ensuring food security amid COVID-19

Currently, the world is facing the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic which started on 11 March 2020 in Wuhan, China and the coronavirus is no longer a “new normal.” The Government of Nepal has imposed a nationwide lockdown since 29 April 2021 and enforced its federal, regional and local level structures to respond to the crisis, fully cognizant of its vulnerabilities.

Nepal's food security situation is exacerbated not only by many domestic factors (e.g., weak policies and institutional arrangements, and poor governance) but also by the effects of COVID-19 these days. The COVID-19 has aggravated food security by restricting movement, closing all restaurants, production, markets, and malls except for emergency needs. Even though these are steps designed to slow the spread of the virus and alleviate potentially devastating economic and social effects in Nepal, and also reflect measures taken by most countries. 

Overall, the virus has made it difficult for already impoverished and marginalized groups to survive. People are facing great food price inflation at the retail level, owing to the lingering supply disruptions caused by the lockdown.

Amid the pandemic as the silver lining of crisis, some positive impressions are also observed. Hereby, I have discussed some of them, to sum up, my opinion.

Government’s action

After the emergence of the second wave, the Government of Nepal has focused more on vaccinating the citizens rather than distributing relief packages. Realizing the importance of food security, provincial and local governments are primarily concerned with increasing the local supply of food, now more to cultivate fallow lands (estimated to be 30%) with the participation of returning migrants.

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Food Security Amidst Second Wave of COVID-19 in Nepal

Food Security Amidst Second Wave of COVID-19 in Nepal

As the world is facing the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic which officially started last year, the corona virus is no longer a “new normal”. The government of Nepal has imposed a regional lockdown and enforced its federal, regional, and local level structures to respond to the crisis, being fully cognizant of its vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, the situation is alarming.

Nepal's food security situation is exacerbated not only by domestic factors ( weak policies and institutional arrangements, and poor governance), but also by the effects of COVID-19. It aggravates food security by restricting movement, closing down all restaurants, production, markets, and malls except for emergency needs, despite the fact that these are steps designed to slow the spread of virus and mitigate potentially devastating economic and social effects in Nepal, and reflect measures taken by most countries. The virus has made it difficult for already impoverished and marginalized groups to survive. Particularly, western Nepal and Terai region appears to be more prone to disasters and food insecurity. People are facing great food price inflation at the retail level, owing to the lingering supply disruptions caused by lockdown. Higher food prices have a significant influence on people with low and middle incomes than on people with high incomes.

Food security is achieved when “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO, 1996). This description allows the determination of four distinctive dimensions of food security; the physical availability of food, economic and physical access to food, food utilization and the stability of these three dimensions over a period of time. Perhaps unexpectedly, the preliminary assessment found a negative effect on all four dimensions of food security in Nepal as a result of the current  outbreak. The pandemic has caused quick disruptions in food environments by both external aspects, such as food availability, prices and vendors and personal aspects, including geographical access, affordability, convenience and accessibility.Access to food is not fully assured as a result of the decline in incomes and loss of livelihood by it. It is further impaired by socio-economic inequities. The stability of food availability and access will depend on how soon the contagion is controlled to allow free movement of goods and persons to restore food supply chains. The utilization of food is impacted by the absorptive capacity of people, which is constrained by incomes and health standards that are adversely affected by the  pandemic. The capacity of the common man to purchase and absorb nutritious food has declined due to rising health issues as a result of novel coronavirus. Reduced calorie intake and compromised nutrition threaten gains in poverty reduction and health and could have lasting impacts on the cognitive development of young children. Inadequate food production is still the major cause of food and nutrition insecurity. Indigenous food systems have also been obliterated, resulting in food insecurity and severe hunger in areas where indigenous communities predominate.

Now, the question is how these best practices can be institutionalized and scaled up in order to support farmers and produce more food locally in the future. As a result of the pandemic and the resulting food shortages, indigenous/local food systems have become increasingly relevant. Previously, indigenous foods and local farming systems were overlooked and, in many cases, discarded, which harmed indigenous populations. As it is necessary to have in place economic and social policies to safeguard food security and nutrition, digital marketing that connects local producers and consumers implemented in a few sites deserves further development and upscaling. It’s important to minimize the amount of food waste which ensures the highest food safety standards. Higher economic growth, equitable distribution, and a mix of policies such as effective implementation of anti-poverty programs, improved health education, and employment are required to address the food insecurity problem. Eradicating hunger and food insecurity necessitates the ability to engage in enthusiastic political association and deliberation. Poor and women-focused research, extension, and capacity-building programs should be prioritized. In order to increase demand, distribution and access to food, the Government must prioritize irrigation agricultural production and road linkage.

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