KATHMANDU, July 6: A Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) 2020 launched on Monday said that the disruption to supply chains, lack of access to health and nutrition service and overwhelmed social protection system as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to increased food and nutrition insecurity in South Asia.
The report launched at a virtual event co-organized by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), South Asia, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and Trust for Advancement of Agriculture Sciences (TAAS) also said that the awareness and need to work toward inclusive food systems have been amplified for all countries in the region in view of the increased food and nutrition insecurity.
The IFPRI Policy Report highlights the central role that inclusive food systems play in meeting global goals to end poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, and offers recommendations for making food systems more inclusive for four marginalized groups – smallholders, women, youth, and conflict-affected people. While concluding that the COVID crisis has accelerated the importance of reshaping our food systems making them more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient, the report also provides analysis on transforming national food systems in several countries like Bangladesh and Ethiopia, and advice on development of food systems in different regions worldwide.
“Food systems provide opportunities to improve food and nutrition security, generate income, and drive inclusive economic growth, but even in prosperous times too many people are excluded from fully participating in them and securing these benefits,” said IFPRI Director General Johan Swinnen. “In times of crisis like today, inclusion is an even greater imperative for protecting the most vulnerable.”
Chairman of the Institute of Integrated Development Studies (IIDS) and former Vice Chairman of National Planning Commission in Nepal, Dr Swarnim Wagle said Nepal had gone through an atypical structural transformation, marked by desertion of agriculture and epic out-migration of young people over the past two decades. “After COVID-19, reliance on remittances will fall, and there is urgency to find gainful jobs for millions,” he said.
Dr Wagle argued that renewed agriculture can become a source of inclusive growth if we incentivize high-value-to-weight products and food processing, streamline the subsidy regime through targeted digital transfers, and invest heavily to combat deficits in hard infrastructure as well as the softer menace of childhood malnutrition. “These efforts need to be undergirded by enhanced capacities across all tiers of Nepal’s newly federated governance structure,” he further said.
Also addressing the virtual event, a member of NITI Aayog in India, Ramesh Chand said COVID-19 has struck the world at a time when experts were already deliberating on the need for a paradigm shift in the agri-food sector that could address the broader challenges of sustaining the humanity. “COVID-19 is expected to lead to a significant shift in dietary preferences, adding new dimensions to the food system thinking,” he said.
South Asia’s steady progress has reshaped the region’s diverse food systems over the past decade. This regional transformation has been marked by strong economic growth, rising real wages, and the expansion of nonagricultural sectors. In recent years in South Asia the growth rate of high-value foods has been greater than that of cereals. The increase in income and greater diet diversity has also led to growth of the food processing sector. Yet post-harvest losses continue to be high in South and Southeast Asia compared to other regions.
“South Asian economies are transforming. Real wages are rising, shares of agriculture in GDP are declining, and nonfarm employment in much of the region has surpassed farm employment. These structural changes will bring about changes in the food system with new challenges — the challenges of ensuring that food system transformation are efficient, inclusive, and sustainable,” said Shahidur Rashid, director South Asia, IFPRI.
According to a IFPRI press statement, the report recommends three key policy levers which will be critical in making the food system transformation inclusive and sustainable: (1) reforming agricultural input subsidies and price supports; (2) improving the targeting of social protection programs; and (3) building effective institutions for governing the emerging food system. Reforming some of the age-old programs on agricultural subsidy and price policies could free up public funds, to invest in fostering more inclusive, equitable, and gender- and nutrition-sensitive food systems.