AsPac urged to ensure food security
Czeriza Valencia (The Philippine Star) - July 7, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is urging countries in the Asia Pacific region to use the pandemic as an opportunity to implement reforms that help ensure food security.

In a recent entry on the Asian Development blog, economist Kijin Kim, agriculture specialist Sunae Kim, and ADB director for regional cooperation Cyn-Young Park said inefficiencies in the agriculture value chain in the region amid the COVID-19 pandemic have wide-reaching effects on food supply and prices, producer incomes, and food security, particularly for the vulnerable population.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has raised food security risks in Asia and the Pacific as lockdowns and export restrictions have affected food supply chains,” said the ADB experts.

Lockdown measures implemented to curb the spread of the virus has made transporting produce more difficult, causing large amounts of vegetable and fruits to be wasted.

With limited farm goods reaching high-demand areas, retail prices of staple food, fresh vegetables, and fruits rose amid panic buying and higher transportation costs.

The sudden closure of borders, and trade restrictions, add strain on food security for import-dependent countries.

The retail prices of rice and wheat, for instance, have risen sharply in several developing economies in the region as more than 20 countries, including major rice and wheat exporters in Asia, have adopted temporary trade restrictions to stabilize domestic food supply.

In contrast, farmgate prices have fallen, threatening the income of farmers as demand from hotels, restaurants, and school feeding programs fall.

“Across the region, the pandemic has turned a spotlight on stark inequalities and its impact on the most vulnerable,” said the authors.

“The pandemic-induced economic slowdown has already dealt a devastating blow to vulnerable jobs in developing countries in Asia.”

With diminished income and high food prices, the nutrition of those most exposed and vulnerable to the virus will be affected.

As schools close due to the pandemic, school meal programs have been suspended, significantly affecting low-income children’s access to healthy and balanced diets as fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, and milk, but those foods are highly perishable, thus more vulnerable to supply chain disruptions,” said the authors.

“Swift, bold, and innovative policy interventions are needed to secure food supply chains and mitigate the immediate impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable groups. Effective policy interventions should be comprehensive, covering a wide range from protecting consumers and public health, securing supply chains for producers, fair labor, trade, macroeconomic policies, and regional cooperation,” said the authors.

These include various forms of social protection, immediate support to smallholder farmers in terms of market access, financial relief and liquidity support to farmers, and reforms in the agriculture sector.

Wider adoption of agricultural technology should also be supported to improve productivity.

“The COVID-19 crisis should be used as an opportunity for developing economies to initiate or start implementing long-sought agricultural reforms,” said the authors.

“A shift toward digital agriculture and mechanization may accelerate in the post-COVID era, and Asia’s developing countries will need to cope with this new environment to make the agriculture sector more competitive.”

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua said last week that the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is updating the Philippine Development Plan for 2020-2022 to prioritize programs for strengthening the health sector and ensuring food security among others.

Programs on food security will be designed to fill the gap in agricultural value chains.

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