Agricultural marketing systems under pandemic situation
Bangladesh is not new to disasters or major humanitarian crises. The country is combating a longstanding battle against climate change impacts and currently suffering from covid-19 attack. Even so, the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis of a completely different extent and enormity and it requires an unprecedented response. Bangladesh's public and private sectors have come together to address the immediate threats of COVID-19 to health systems as well as possible long-term threats to the country's overall economy including agriculture.
The agriculture sector is going through a major crisis now. Disruption in the entire supply chain and dwindling mobility of labour due to social distancing and decreased transportation are just a few of the problems. A market management crisis of goods and materials are to be seen in the near future. Nowadays, due to unavailability of income generating activities a reduction in the purchasing power of people has caused a reduction in demand.
To overcome this crisis in both Covid-19 and post Covid-19 situations, the Department of Agricultural Marketing along with collaboration of different government and non-government organizations can play a vital role.
1. They can buy the perishable products from farmers and middle men, and hand out them to the areas needed. Concerned authority can now start to operate it in the local level in a more comprehensive way. Depending merely on the central government neglecting local government is not a judicious way to solve the issues at all.
2. We always complain about farmers not getting fair prices for their commodities. Here, the lack of proper objectified data is the reason we are lagging behind in this pandemic. A complete database of farms, farmers, products, produce, markets, prices etc. would make it easier for the proper formulation of price and distribution of the stimulus package that is offered by the government of Bangladesh.
3. The closure of markets and different initiatives to control the transport system brought multiple challenges to the farmers across the country. They are facing loss of income followed by the government. Locally they could address the problem as follows:
a. To sustain their livelihoods, the local farmers in the area could launch a collective initiative like establishing a temporary, make-shift vegetable market near the village mosque to serve the local community. If the farmers carry on their efforts with the local government and community police's assistance to enforce and monitor social distance measures then it could bear a rewarding result.
b. Mobilizing emergency funds is an organizational preparedness practice that government could be hammered within their business for providing support and sustainability to the farmers. The emergency fund also creates alliance between farmers through exchange of seeds, providing fertilizer support and basic food supply in toting up cash provision to the farming community in crisis.
4. Again, economic shutdown and the restriction on travel have created an imbalance between the demand and supply of food. Though Bangladesh has unfastened emergency transportation system for agriculture but major portion of perishable goods are still now being wasted everyday due to lack of proper distribution and monitoring system. Therefore, government has to take proper initiatives in this regard.
5. The ban on transport caused a shortage of animal feed along with limited allied services. Following the lockdown, the closures of dairy food outlets and restaurants, as well as the prohibition of all types of social and cultural programs, had sharply decreased the market demand for milk, eggs and meat. All such types of ambiguity rigorously affected the livelihood of farmers and the economy of the country.
Besides the decrease in livestock production, the COVID-19 pandemic has also had a significant adverse effect on the supply chain. Therefore, it is crucial to support farmers to continue the production cycle, boom the market demand and use alternative supply chains in order to lump and embark upon the emerging threats facing the marketing channels in this crisis period.
6. Proper utilization of digital technologies for set of connections among stakeholders along with the use of other agricultural technologies for hygienic and cost-effective farm management could help in overcoming the impacts of COVID-19. For sustainable capacity building, the government could introduce evidence-based strategies in all areas of agriculture.
7. Based on the actual consumer's observations, it could be opined that foods are not equally available in the larger urban areas and other local markets. It's happening due to the supply chain disruption between farmers and consumers. Therefore, it is necessary to fabricate a sustainable supply chain and consider an extra concern on agricultural production for overcoming the food security problem of the local consumers. Again, the authority should take precise steps to handle local market for food pricing and ease of use issues.
8. Stumbling blocks to transport routes, transport restrictions, shortages of labour and spines in product's prices are awkward for agricultural products supply chains and might also result in increased levels of food loss and waste. These would consequently reduce the productive capacities of farmers and food demand. Therefore, it is necessary to facilitate farmers and provide them with all necessary materials so that agricultural production does not suffer.
9. Travel margins and lack of mobility also reduced farmers' access to agricultural inputs like fertilizer, seeds, pesticides, farm equipment etc. which has critically hampered agricultural productivity and farmers' livelihoods. Therefore, government has to put emphasis on ensuring the accessible supply of agricultural inputs throughout the country.
10. To avoid disruptions in agro-systems and related issues, we may also consider the following measures:
a. Coordinated efforts of different government agencies should be ensured
b. Quick procurement along with availability of credit, subsidies and government-coped distributions should be introduced at the farm level
c. Strong agriculture-based internal markets with agricultural extension initiatives should be designed and executed
d. Improvement in storage capacities for grains, fruits and vegetables could help in mitigating product related vulnerabilities and risk reduction and
e. Digitalization of agro-systems under suitable policy frameworks and using appropriate technology to support farmers should be feasible in the face of present and future risks.
In conclusion, interventions to augment the adaptive capacity of agricultural producers and distributors and other agro-system stakeholders to address COVID-19-related impacts are fundamental. In this respect, good governance and accountability are essential parts of building adaptive, flexible and unwavering agro-system. To this end, Bangladesh needs support from its development partners including from international agencies in this regard.
The writer is professor, Department of Economics, Hajee Mohammad Danesh Science and Technology University