Current COVID-19 Pandemic And Food Security In Pakistan: Challenges And Solutions

COVID-19 is an infectious illness related to human respiratory system that is caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and has become a major public health concern worldwide.

By Bushra Safdar, Dr. Ashfaq Ahmad, Dr. Tasneem Khaliq and Dr. Muhammad Shaukat 

Introduction:

The highly transmittable and pathogenic corona virus that belongs to coronaviral family got its name due to its crown like structure. This miniature virion, with diameter ranging from 65-125 nm, causes pulmonary failure that leads to fatality. The epidemic was originated from seafood market in Wuhan, China at the end of December, 2019, and announced as global pandemic on January 30, 2020 by WHO. Approximately, 188 countries have been affected by COVID-19 with 1.8 million cases and more than 110,000 deaths.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 illness include cough, fever, sore throat, breathlessness and fatigue that become visible after incubation period. The most common route for COVID-19 spread is person to person transmission via microdroplets during coughing and direct contact. In Pakistan, the first case of novel corona virus was reported on February 2, 2020 in Kharachi and progressed to 6200 confirmed cases with 111 deaths till April 15, 2020. The country was at risk to the pandemic as sharing economic, religious and geographic boundaries with two early hard-hit countries China and Iran. An emergency situation was created at border when thousands of pilgrims returned to Pakistan from Iran. Initially, the government implemented the complete lockdown as precautionary measure from 15th March to 9th May, but due to economic and financial uncertainty of many poor households, the ease in lockdown was provided by central government in order to maintain balance during Ramadan. People did not follow Standard operational procedures (SOPs) that increased the cases up to 150000 with mortality rate of 2000 in April. Pakistan government provided Rs. 12000 per family via Ihasas program but this amount was less to meet their basic requirements.  

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COVID-19 pandemic and Food security:

The steady supply of food is pre-requisite for food security of the people all over the world. According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 820 million people in world are suffering from hunger, while around 2.0 million people are going through severe or moderate food insecurity. Globally, food security is challenged by COVID-19 pandemic in terms of lockdowns, economic decline, food trade restrictions, and rising food inflation. Particularly, the less developed and developing countries, where people are more vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition, have been struck badly due to disruption of supply chains and contraction of economic access to staples that increased food conflicts as the result of this pandemic.

Food Challenges in Pakistan due to COVID-19:

The COVID-19 pandemic has significant socio-economic challenges for the people in Pakistan. The major problems during lockdown were financial instability, income reduction, unemployment and food insecurity. Economy of country has badly affected by COVID-19 pandemic due to the suspension of business activities and unemployment of about 25.0 million people, that ultimately increase the hunger and poverty. Sectors like tourism and travel, stock markets, entertainment and manufacturing have been badly affected. To counter the aforesaid issues, the government announced the relief package of Rs. 3000 per month for 7.0 million daily wage workers but due to lack of database they were not properly entertained. The food security in Pakistan has already been highly vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation, and the COVID-19 outbreak has further aggravated this situation.

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The COVID-19 pandemic is continuously affecting the whole process of food chain supply from field to consumer like production, processing, distribution and demand. Further, food systems have been strained mainly due to border closure, quarantines, supply chain disruptions (imbalance between demand and supply, poor purchasing power, reduced capacity to produce and distribute food) and other strict public health protection measures in order to reduce COVID-19 transmission. Pakistan is an agriculture dependent country that furnishes 43.3% employment share in the country but facing significant hurdles due to border closure and travel restrictions. The COVID-19 crises badly influenced the farmers of all sizes particularly high value farm enterprises including dairy farming, floriculture, fruit production, fisheries and poultry farms. The farm types that heavily depend on temporary labor for certain crop operations, especially harvesting, face appreciable income level reductions.

Solutions:

The short-, medium- and long-term policies are needed to mitigate the negative consequences of this pandemic and to revitalize the economy of Pakistan. More funds should be given to health sector for on time treatment in hospitals, new hospitals and quarantine centers on borders should be constructed and managed properly. Availability of preventive measures in terms of sanitizers and good personal hygiene as well as awareness among common masses should be practiced. Proper record or database for all sort of labor as well as other poor segments of country should be maintained. The SOPs recommended by WHO should be strictly followed by public. More funds should be provided to farmers, industrial owners and business men in the country for raising the economy of Pakistan. Government should provide food to needy people during locked down, make the effective policies for smart lock down and punish those who violate the rules. Proper online system for education should be developed and maintained to avoid break in academic session.

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The unpredicted COVID-19 outbreak is really an alarming call for food security that demands a revolutionary shift in agriculture. Agricultural tools should be digitized and smart techniques should be developed as well as priority must be given to the farmers in order to reduce the food insecurity across the country. The government should also provide the automated machinery facilities including autonomous tractors, seeding robots, laser weed killers, robotic harvesters, drones and ICTs as well as quality seeds and fertilizers to the farmers to enhance agriculture resilience. Food protectionists’ policies should be avoided to control the food prices, and also ensure the enough flexibility in food supply chain to overcome the challenges in food supply chains, resulting improved food security situations in the country. For this purpose, the advanced digital technologies can be used. The geographic information system (GIS) should be used to detect the disease outbreaks in early stages that may provide the efficient disease control and prevention as well as for more effective investigations of vulnerable geographical locations in Pakistan.

Bushra Safdar, Dr. Ashfaq Ahmad, Dr. Tasneem Khaliq and Dr. Muhammad Shaukat Authors have affiliation with Agro-climatology Lab. Department of Agronomy, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad Pakistan

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