Regulatory vigilance on agriculture sector
Legitimacy of a state is hugely depended on feeding its people. Food security is a vital parameter for an undisputed legitimacy of a state. Agriculture sector is the key source of food for a country; however, this sector is also a great source of job creation and demographic regulation. Furthermore, a blissful agriculture sector enabled public order to be maintained more adroitly.
Agriculture sector which is often seem to be off the table of important strategy decisions of global leaders is now at the top of the priority list of all policy makers. The emergence of COVID-19 has literally forced us to think back.
In Bangladesh, it is high time to formulate strategies and provide adequate attention to the agriculture sector to extend its food security ambit. Regulatory quality, accountability and control of corruption are vital to maintain a reign over this sector.
How Covid-19 affected the food supply process:
The rapid spread of COVID-19 has impacted the global market and triggered unforeseeable uncertainty for every business sector. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is currently forecasting a 3% contraction in global economic activity in 2020--worse than the global financial crisis. However, even during a crisis, food is an essential commodity and therefore the agriculture sector may be impacted by softer prices rather than reduced consumption.
The pandemic of COVID-19 may affect food demand in several manners. Generally, reduced income and uncertainty compel people to spend less which eventually result in shrinking demand. During lockdown, people prefer not to visit food markets and therefore their consumption and food choice are getting affected. Poor people's reduction in income capacity is also putting negative impact on the trend of consumption.
The pandemic of COVID-19 has already disrupted several activities and supply chains in agriculture sector of Bangladesh. Non-availability of migrant worker has already interrupted some harvesting activities. The supply chain was disrupted due to lack of transportation and other issues. Prices of vegetables and other crops declined drastically. Nevertheless, in some places consumers are often paying more. The closure of hotels, sweet shops, restaurants and tea shops has already depressed milk sales and other food sale. Poultry farms has been badly affected due to propagation of misinformation on the social media that boiler chicken may cause COVID-19.
Currently, there is no shortage of food in the market as the supply has been adequate and markets are stable. Agricultural economist are concerned that continuous blockages of transportation system and shortage of labour may invoke spikes in product's price and increase level of food loss and waste. The supply of fresh food supply may be disrupted which may eventually increase health hazards. Furthermore, stringent restrictions over movement may hamper farmer's access to markets, curtailing their productive capacities and create obstruction in their selling process. Lack of labour could hamper the production and processing of food.
How Bangladesh's policy should evolve to protect its agriculture sector:
Bangladesh's policy should evolve more robustly to protect its agriculture sector. In the notice of general holiday, government has correctly exempted farm operation and supply chain. However, labour shortage and price fall should be rectified with proper policy measure. It is impertinent to keep the supply chain undisrupted. It should be remembered that 2-3 million deaths in Bengal famine of 1943 was caused by food supply disruptions rather than lack of availability. Most importantly, farm population should be safeguard from the coronavirus by implementing rigorous testing and social distancing.
Policy should be formulated which will enable farmers to have easy access to the market and valid price. Small poultry and dairy farmers need urgent attention to overcome their pandemic related damages. Farmers and agriculture workers should be included in social protection programs addressing the crisis.
As every cloud has silver lining, this pandemic has also brought some new hope. The restrictions over movement invoked demand for home delivery groceries, medicines and many other essential materials. This practice has open up a new paradigm for the E-commerce business and government should adopt proper policies and accelerate facilities to promote this trend. Sustainability of this sector may cure several long entrenched crisis of our society.
To ensure protection of income and boosting purchasing power, government should adopt diversified social protection programs. Public policies should be aimed to reduce unemployment by properly utilizing its workable force. Monitoring should be enhanced in order to keep the food price stable.
The central bank has already declared fund of taka five thousand crore in the agricultural sector through a loan facility which is aimed to help small and medium scales farmers in rural areas to produce agricultural products. This fund may certainly provide assistance to casual laborers and farmers and many agro-based micro, small and medium enterprises. However, good governance should be ensured to properly disseminating this fund which will eventually boost up our food security. In the context of Bangladesh, accountability and prevention of corruption is essential for strong and undisputed food security.
Accelerating smooth trade and avoid restrictions of mobility of commodities will ensure undisrupted food, feed and input supplies. The UN's food body has warned: "protectionist measures by governments during the coronavirus crisis could provoke food shortages around the world."
The pandemic of COVID-19 is an unprecedented challenge for Bangladesh which is already causing immense sufferings to the mass population of the country.
Therefore, in order to save Bangladesh from such crisis regulatory vigilance should be enhanced over the food supply chain which involves agricultural inputs, producers, transportation, processing plants, shipping etc. Government should take innovative and effective measures to protect all angles of food supply chain. Robust regulatory actions are impertinent to reduce food waste and losses. Diversified public program should be adopted to keep market functioning. Food security by virtue of dependency free agricultural sector is the key weapon of Bangladesh to combat this pandemic of COVID-19 and the probable recession.
The writer is an apprentice lawyer and an associate at Lex Counsel