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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.

Other actions that came after the outbreak of the virus include minimal support prices for major crops, easy and cheap lending to provide aid to improved/hybrid seeds, fertilizers and machinery; and support for improved/hybrids. Some local and provincial administrations have arranged 'agricultural ambulances' to help farmers deliver their fields' produce. Gradually these methods are gaining popularity, which is an early indication of the progress towards agricultural modernization.

Youth-led campaigns

Ansu Yadav's food bank campaign is praiseworthy. He is doing his best to assist hundreds of Nepalese who have lost their jobs and have no other way to feed themselves. The idea behind a food bank is simple: individuals with the ability to deposit food and other commodities, and those in need are free to take them. Similarly, Sano Paila which means ‘small step’, has launched the Feeding Nepal program, mobilizing youth to provide proper meals to the displaced, stranded and those in quarantine in Birganj, Janakpur, Siraha and even the Karnali region of western Nepal.

Reduce food waste

Milk producers have given more importance these days to produce milk products such as cheese, paneer, sweets and other products to reduce the loss of milk. Some producers are trying to expand the shelf-life of their products by refrigeration, canning, pasteurization and drying. Consequently, there is a chance to promote local cuisine and boost food availability as tama (fermented bamboo shoots) and gundruk (fermented greens) could be a source of vitamin B12. Indigenous foods like masaura (sun-dried ball of black lentil paste and minced vegetables) and kinema (fermented soybean food) are gaining popularity. Excess of cereals and pulses have been roasted and grounded to make ‘sarbottam pitho’ which is highly nutritious to children.

Surplus vegetables are getting used to produce pickles, jams and juices, or being dried to avoid wastage. Although this is not yet a very popular practice, farmers in Hardiya village of Saptari district are making a good example to other smallholders in Nepal to save their produce and sources of revenue. Food waste reduction techniques play a prominent role in food security. Now major concern should be given to utilize the crops produced all over the country equally so that there would not be any scarcity.

Digital transformations

These include e-commerce bigwigs Daraz and Sastodeal, food delivery startups like Bhoj, online supermarket options like Mero Kirana, and a variety of online food startups like Kheti Food, Kheti Bazaar and Maato.

Kheti Food is quickly becoming a crowd favorite for the quality of vegetables, both organic and regular, as well as the focus on directly benefitting farmers of Nepal. Maato, an agro product of Golyan Group, aims to serve local organic products, packaged and expertly distributed by a group experienced in the development and construction of a brand to satisfy the needs of its audience. It took the revolutionary move of selling vegetables via a mobile van. Digital marketing, which connects local producers and customers on certain sites, must be further developed and enhanced since economic and social policies are needed to protect food security and nutrition.

However, the battle against the COVID-19 continues unabated. 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. Youths are the connecting link to end hunger and promote sustainable agriculture. Therefore, engaging and incentivizing youths to participate in food production would not only assure youth employment, but also assist in innovating, lowering rural poverty, and ensuring food security. 

Stay Safe! 

Photo credit: Rakesh Kusma

 

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Saturday, 16 October 2021

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