Food

COVID-19: The world scrambles for food

The Indian government announced a Rs 1.7-lakh crore package for the poor and needy

 
By Shagun Kapil
Last Updated: Thursday 26 March 2020
Hand-harvested rice being moved for threshing, near Sangrur in Punjab. Source: Flickr

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has the world scrambling for food.

In India, for example, the three-week lockdown has disrupted food distribution channels, affecting last-mile supply. To tide over the situation, central government on March 26, 2020 announced free cereals for the poor and marginalised sections for next three months.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a Rs 1.7-lakh crore package under ‘Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana’, under which one kilogram pulses per month per household and five kg of wheat or rice per month per person will be provided to 800 million people — over and above what they have been getting through other sources.

About 20 per cent of the world is under lockdown; several countries are taking drastic steps to ensure food security.  

According to media reports, Vietnam, world’s third-biggest rice exporter, has suspended export contracts. Kazakhstan, the ninth-biggest wheat exporter, has banned exports too. 

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has warned that protectionist measures by countries could cause food shortages around the world.

It’s a similar story from around the globe — residents are complaining of food shortages in China; stocks are running low in supermarkets in the United States; African countries are reporting a price hike; and Canada's agricultural sector has warned hike and food shortage in near future.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) warned that millions across the globe are facing a possibility of drought.

According to Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary, UNCCD, over 70 countries are already affected by drought. It said in a statement that in April, a record 45 million people in southern Africa may face food insecurity — partly due to drought — in a situation reminiscent of the 2015-2017 drought.

“The World Food Programme needed $489 million dollars by February 2020 to help 8.3 million people who were facing food insecurity in the region, but are yet to raise half the required sum,” it said.

The pandemic also has the potential to disrupt the agricultural cycle. The yield from India’s Rabi crop harvest will be affected amid lockdown amid labour shortage, lack of transport facilities and closure of mandis. Labourers would also be reluctant to work fearing infection.

Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture has written to the Prime Minister and Union agriculture minister requesting that all such workers be immediately rescued and shelter and food be provided to them.

The letter also requested the government to ensure that farmers should be able to harvest with necessary protection against COVID-19.

It said agricultural work should not be brought under lockdown since food supply chains will be vastly disrupted if crops are not harvested at the right time.

It added that if farmers and agricultural labourers wanted to harvest of their own volition, provided they take adequate protection as overseen by the Panchayats and other line departments, the same should be allowed. 

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