Gibson Susumu, a Programme Leader for the Sustainable Agriculture Programme, Land Resources Division, Pacific Community and Chair of APIRAS, the Asia-Pacific Islands Rural Advisory Services Network has reflected on the response to COVID-19 for food security in the Pacific, and how it has a long-term impact on local food production and value chains, with high dependency on imported agro-inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, chemicals and livestock feeds/supplements. This will exacerbate availability and access to quality foods for vast majority of the Pacific populations. More can be read here.

 

Lao PDR has been fortunate in having very few cases of COVID-19.  Due to prompt action by the government there have been only 19 confirmed cases and no deaths by early May. Nevertheless, control measures have greatly impacted all sections of society due to loss of income and restricted access to goods. The lockdown that went into effect on 30th March is being now gradually lifted, thereby permitting greater movement and economic activity. Although many control measures will remain in place, border trade will depend on the decisions made by governments in neighbouring countries. Some reflections by Mr. Souvanthong Namvong, regional focal point of MELA, the Mekong Extension Learning Alliance, and one of GFRAS' sub-regional network can be read here.

 

 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has made available, on its website, a Questions & Answers section related to the COVID-19 pandemic impact on food and agriculture. It discusses possible steps to mitigate the pandemic's risks on food security and nutrition, the protection of supply chains and markets, amongst other relevant issues. The Q&A is available here.

In this note, Canning S Shabong illustrates how the Department of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare, Government of Meghalaya (India) is using ICT solutions to support farmers who are facing marketing issues resulting from the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19 Pandemic.

On the evening of 26 March 2020, in the midst of the national lockdown because of COVID-19, the Government of Meghalaya took a Cabinet decision that the 1917 iTEAMS (Box 1) of the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare will procure vegetables for distribution to retail outlets at Shillong and other urban areas.

1917 iTEAMS is a programme considered India's first-ever disruptive farmer centric, market-oriented, cloud-based facilitation service that connects farmers to markets through real time agro advisories, affordable logistics, and market information. More information about this initiative and its impact during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on AESA's website.

In order to avoid food shortages, it is imperative that countries keep the food supply chains going. Unlike the 2007-2008 global food crisis, scarcity is not an issue this time. The supply of staple commodities is functioning well, and the crops need to be transported to where they are needed most. Restricting trade is not only unnecessary, it would hurt producers and consumers and even create panic in the markets. For high-value commodities that require workers (instead of machines) for production, countries must strike a balance between the need to keep production going and the need to protect the workers. As countries combat the coronavirus pandemic, they must also make every effort to keep the gears of their food supply chains moving.

This note from the FAO highlights recommended measures and how to ensure food supply chains continue to work in order to prevent high food prices and hunger. It compiles measures already in place in different countries, their impacts, and how they can support the strengthening of food supply chains during the crisis.

Dr. Mahesh Chander writes about how the current pandemic is affecting farming activities in India, mainly due to disruptions in the input and output value chains, what role can extension services play in ensuring the least possible disruptions to the food systems, and what possible strategies and tools to disseminate reliable information in local languages, through virtual means.

The complete article, with recommendations, concrete measures, and questions for discussion and reflection, is available on AESA's blog.

Although vastly different diseases, what can the Ebola crisis teach us when it comes to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially on what they mean for farmers, and the millions of people who rely on them for food?

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa (2013-2016) was responsible for food system disruptions, reduction of income for households, and overall food insecurity in many of the affected countries.

As governments restricted people's movements, markets were deeply disrupted, and the consequences ranged from higher prices, disruption of markets, less diversity, and, ultimately, less available food. The concerns are similar with the ongoing crisis.

Writing about the Ebola in 2015, the World Economic Forum defended that essential is to find out what farmers need, how the crisis affects them, what challenges they face, and what is necessary to get back on track. Through a series of needs assessment studies, effective emergency interventions were designed, focusing on seeds and fertilizers in time for the April planting season - a similar stage in time as we are now. More information on these interventions can be found here.

A different study, conducted by ACF International, and focused on the Ebola effects in Liberia, also assessed the outbreak's impacts on food security, and drafted a series of recommendations ranging from fast cash injections to maintain purchasing power, and urged for increased support for agriculture extension as a means to mitigate the possibility of food shortage, among others. The complete list of recommendations is available in this report.

This study conducted at the time in Sierra Leone, also highlighted the accentuated decrease in food affordability and financing, food availability, storage and protection, processing and preservation, marketing, and food accessibility, and hints at similar problems that are already starting to take place as a consequence of COVID-19.

Shared lessons between the previous Ebola epidemic and the current COVID-19 pandemic is a key aspect in better preparing and responding to the existing challenges, protecting farmers, consumers, and the food value chains.

 

The Committee on World Food Security via its High-Level Panel of Experts has started  an interim Issue Paper Series on the Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN). This series aims to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting food systems directly through impacts on food supply and demand, and indirectly - but just as importantly - through decreases in purchasing power, the capacity to produce and distribute food, and the intensification of care tasks, all of which will have differentiated impacts and will more strongly affect the poor and vulnerable.

The first paper in this series can be downloaded here: