FOOD SECURITY-A CHALLENGE BY COVID19
As we shall begin to discuss Food Security- A challenge by COVID 19, Let us first know about Food Security.
“Food Security” as defined by United Nations Committee on Food Security means that all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for a healthy and active lifestyle.
For a durable Food security index, the requirements of these four pillars should be fully met-
- Availability (is the supply of food adequate?),
- Access (can people obtain the food they need?),
- Utilization (do people have enough intake of nutrients?), and;
- Stability (can people access food at all times?).
FOOD SECURITY – A CHALLENGE BY COVID 19 (GLOBAL IMPACT)
As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, trade-offs have emerged between the need to contain the virus and to avoid disastrous economic and food security crises that hurt the world’s poor and hungry. Although no major food shortages have emerged as yet, but COVID-19 is most directly and severely impacting access to food, globally.
Lacking up-to-date household surveys for most countries, no precise estimates can be made regarding the impacts on global poverty and food insecurity. However, Model-based simulations suggest, that between 90 million to150 million people could fall (or may already have fallen) into extreme poverty. Although any such estimate is highly uncertain given the rapid evolution of the pandemic. Declines in incomes and increases in poverty of this magnitude would have large impacts on food security and nutrition.
FOOD SECURITY -A CHALLENGE BY COVID 19 (INDIA)
As for the rest of the globe, the COVID-19 outbreak was and continues to be, an unparalleled challenge. The pandemic is threatening the long-cherished Food Security of India (FSI). The pandemic had perilous implications for food security, particularly of the poor and most vulnerable. This was demonstrated by the crisis faced by over 100 million migrant workers, who had to walk miles and miles, but empty stomachs. Even the national managers of the pandemic could not foresee such a situation.
Availability of Food
The availability of food grains does not seem to have been adversely impacted so far. As of March 1, 2020, the country had sufficient buffers of food grains: 58.4 million tons and pulses 3 million tons. However, it is not so for other commodities such as fruits and vegetables, eggs, meat, milk, and sugar that constitutes 78 percent of the total food consumption. Since agriculture directly impinged on FSI, the government exempted the agricultural sector from lockdown restrictions. However, reports on the level of disruption to the harvest have reached no consensus. Farmers highlight the lack of availability of farm labor given the ‘mass exodus of migrant workers returning to their homes. The price of foodstuffs has also been pushed down by the lack of demand resulting from the closure of restaurants, food stalls, and canteens. It should be noted that it is not just crop farmer who are feeling the implications of COVID-19; speculation linking birds to the outbreak has led to India’s domestic poultry industry experiencing its worst financial quarter in recent times.
As against other sectors of the economy, agriculture has surely shown more resilience. The country’s farmers successfully harvested winter and summer crops, despite constraints in timely supplies of inputs at reasonable prices.
Access to Food
Fortunately, there are no reports of mass starvation from the COVID 19 pandemic. However, adequate food supply at the international or national level does not guarantee household-level food security. More than 380 million Indians are employed in the informal sector, unprotected by labor laws, and, therefore, unlikely to have a formal contract and secure income.
Access to food was not fully assured as a result of the decline in incomes and loss of livelihood after the Pandemic COVID-19.. The food supply chain (FSC) was stressed. There were widespread disruptions owing to restricted movements, the ban on transportation, and border sealing. FSCs were exempt from lockdown, but only 6 percent of the total supply chain was organized. Moreover, private players who are averse to the risk of the virus largely control it; therefore, the role of PDS was critical in ensuring equitable access to food. The regional disparities in the availability of food grains and pulses were also responsible for skewed access to food.
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 COVID-19 pandemic. The capacity of the common man to purchase and absorb nutritious food declined due to rising health issues as a result of novel coronavirus; comorbid ailments and seasonal diseases such as dengue fever, common flu. Unaffordable retail prices of non-grain food items and a decline in purchasing power compelled the common man to focus more on calories than wholesome energy. The people were constrained in their choice of preferred food as per local habits/traditions.
The stability of availability and access to food turned out to be fragile due to global economic slowdown; uncertain incomes and reduced purchasing power; unavailability of labor/manpower and restrictions on movements, imports, and exports.
The pandemic has revived food nationalism. It has made wholesale supplies of food cheaper whereas retail consumers faced a rise in prices because of the disruptions of food supply chains (FSCs). Even for future productions, uncertain supplies and shortage of inputs have raised the cost of production.
The stability of food availability and access will depend on how soon the contagion is controlled. As of now, 67 percent of the population is getting free and subsidized ration under the National Food Security Act. Recently the number has been increased to 800 million people.
To remedy the situation emerging out of the COVID-19 pandemic and to prevent any major devastation by way of loss of human lives and livelihood, the country has unitedly taken unimaginable quick decisions. The care for the poor and most vulnerable populations was perhaps the most arduous task.
The biggest reason which vanished away the danger of non-availability of food to the poor was the Indian way of living, people helping and donating to one another, whatever they could.
The government had to enhance social safety programs including direct benefit transfers such as cash transfers under PM Kissan, more liberal financing under MNREGA; advance disbursement Social Security Pensions; direct cash grants to construction workers; and release of free and subsidized food grains under Pradhan Mantri Greeb Kalyan Yojna to about 800 million people to ensure food for all.
Rapid up-gradation of health infrastructure and manpower; and swift readjustment of policies and programs with active association and participation of all stakeholders, be that politicians, governments, NGOs, and private sectors, were other tasks performed very well by the governments.
The battle against the Pandemic and FOOD SECURITY – A CHALLENGE BY COVID 19 however, continues unabated. We need new rules of business and make structural, administrative, and legal reforms to live with a new normal enforced by the pandemic, which requires a complete change in social behavior and approach to living.