Food Security Challenges in the Times of COVID-19 Need Assessment for Agriculture Sector in Pakistan

Food Security Challenges in the Times of COVID-19 Need Assessment for Agriculture Sector in Pakistan

Publication details

  • Thursday | 17 Jun, 2021
  • Kashif Majeed Salik
  • Research Reports,Project Publications
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Introduction: Food security is a very critical aspect of life that is under strain since centuries. Despite Pakistan is an agricultural country, ensuring food security is one of the longstanding issues. In a pre-COVID-19 scenario, the high prevalence of hunger and food insecurity had already posed significant challenges for the policy and decision-makers. A national nutrition survey conducted in 2018 presents alarming figures in terms of food insecurity. In a country comprising 207.7 million people, over 37 per cent are food insecure, 14 per cent malnourished, and 40 per cent of children under five years of age have stunted growth (GoP, 2018). Anaemia, which is usually caused by iron deficiency remains a real public health problem in Pakistan. Around 54 per cent of children under five suffer from severe to moderate anaemic problem (GoP, 2018). Such statistics are worrying for the country as the livelihood of millions of people is under duress due to multiple social, economic, environmental, and demographic factors. COVID-19 pandemic has made an additional adverse impact on agriculture and food systems in Pakistan (Suleri, 2020a). Transportation restrictions, shortage of labour, and farmers' limited access to markets are some of the key challenges. Supplies of some food items such as pulses and oil may also be compromised due to export restrictions imposed by producing countries. The impact of COVID-19 on food security is even worse. The factors which are mainly contributing to worsening the situation are decline in purchasing power due to unemployment and loss of livelihoods. To make the food system resilient, policy makers, professionals, and researchers need a better understanding of the implications posed by the pandemic on national to local food systems. Under these circumstances, it is essential to look at how to respond to vulnerabilities of food supply chain? How to ensure sustainable agriculture and food system’s recovery in the times of COVID-19 through short- and medium-term policy steps? And, how to sustain agri-businesses, create and retain jobs in agro-industry and trade, while paving the way for farmers for better access to market and institutional support? During October-November 2020, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development (FCDO) conducted a rapid need assessment survey in Pakistan with the objective to understand key disruptions in crop production (particularly during wheat harvest and sowing of Kharif crops) and food supply chain due to mobility restrictions, which agricultural commodities are more susceptible to damage and how did farmers cope up with market channels closure. Likewise, how did it impact the agricultural labour market, consumer behaviour and what are the potential needs of farmers and rural communities as a whole when it comes to policy gaps, challenges, and government support in the times of COVID-19. The report consists of five sections. The first section comprises a short literature review to see the loss to food system in Pakistan amid COVID-19. The second and third sections present data collection and methodology and COVID-19 spread, perceptions and responses in rural areas. The fourth section provides a thorough discussion on the impact made on farming, agro-processing firms, food prices, workers, and migration returnees. The last section furnishes conclusion and policy recommendations.