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Fisheries and COVID-19 in Nepal

Corona pandemic has rapidly spread around the globe with extensive social and economic effects. Many countries followed unprecedented lockdown measures to contain its impact on public health and urged people to follow physical distancing, using mask and frequent washing/sanitizing hands. Despite such measures, its cases are skyrocketing and those measures also have significant impact on human activity, food and nutrition, security, jobs, mental health. It is estimated that the economic fallout of COVID-19 pandemic could plunge more than half a billion people into poverty, leading to food crisis with serious socio-economic consequences; will become inevitable.

Nepal, recently elevated to lower middle income economy, has not been left untouched by COVID-19. The first case of corona virus have been reported on 13 January, 2020 and till now it has risen to 21390 confirmed cases with 60 deaths. The government data shows that the cases, recently have been rising up to 300 daily cases (approx) after lifting the lockdown on 21 July.

Fisheries ( both capture and culture) has tremendous scope to feed the rising population. The culture of fish is called aquaculture, now produces over 100 million tonnes. In Nepal, it is one of the popular and fast growing sub-sector of agriculture. Presently it contributed 1.13% to total GDP and the production growth rate is 3.15%. The annual total fish production is 86544 metric tons and per capita fish consumption is 2.8 kg. Despite such huge growth rate, still fish from India and Bangladesh have been imported which suggests space for aquaculture to be self sufficient within the country in fish production.

Although COVID-19 doesn't affect fish, the fish sector is still subjected from indirect impacts of pandemic through disruption ins transportation, trade, labour and changing consumer demand. This have serious damaging effect on livelihood of farmers and also on food security. Many people involving in the supply chain of fish will bear loss and employee will lose their jobs. Fish business is rising in Nepal. COVID-19 have impacted fishers and vendor to rise the price of fish upto 400/kg, earlier it used to be 300/kg in average.

During the early detection of corona virus in Nepal, there was rumours that COVID-19 also spreads from eating meat and that meat eaters are more susceptible to the virus. There was also blind beliefs that only non-vegetarian will die of the virus. This decreases the consumption of fish, and those fish that were already in the market before government imposed lockdown, were selling at cheap price or are not getting any market. Even the farmers have to keep large quantities of live fish that need to fed for an indeterminate period, which increases the costs, expenditures and risk. The production also have affected by the difficulty in sourcing inputs and finding labours.

Fish are safe to eat as coronavirus cannot infect aquatic animals. However, it has to be cautioned that transmission could be through containers and hence disinfectant practise should be strictly imposed. Fish is a source of high protein and is a staple food of the some people in Nepal, and people should be encouraged to have fish in their diet to reach nutritional security but however, the danger lies when an infected person sneezes or coughs, and virus settle on the surface which could lead to the spread of infection. The risk is same for the vegetables too. Proper cooking can destroys coronaviruses as it can be destroyed even in normal cooking temperatures (70 degree celsius).

The other problems for the farmers are the supply of inputs; feed and seeds. Despite the downfall due to corona virus, there is still a huge potential to learn from the pandemic and seek for sustainable solutions of the problems and leads to be self sufficient in fish production.

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Sunday, 14 April 2024

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