Food shortages

 
April 04, 2020

With the coronavirus pandemic raging in the world, food shortages are a likely scenario in the country if timely steps are not taken. So the fight against Covid-19 is not only about managing the...

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With the coronavirus pandemic raging in the world, food shortages are a likely scenario in the country if timely steps are not taken. So the fight against Covid-19 is not only about managing the virus spread across the country, it is also about managing it in such a manner that food production and supply chain is not disrupted. If a country fails to manage these two-fold challenges properly, there are bound to be repercussions that will affect not only the common people but also may result in popular unrest. The lockdowns in many countries of the world, including Pakistan, have slowed down production and trading activities. Disruptions in supply chain have caused people to resort to panic buying before going into government-imposed confinements. As many countries are already experiencing empty shelves and shops, a similar outcome may not be unimaginable in the days to come in Pakistan too.

So, what can the government do about it? Well, a lot. First, it needs to communicate with the people that the government is prepared to reduce uncertainty about food availability and there is no need to feel insecure or spark a wave of agitation. Governments at both federal and provincial levels must keep the people informed about the latest food situation in the country and assure them that at the moment there is no shortage of food items in the market. As the lockdown continues, there may be a situation of shortage but the government must be well aware of the developing scenarios and make every effort to ensure that production and trade flows are as smooth as possible. It is the government’s primary responsibility to protect the health and well-being of its citizens and ensure that any protective and safety measures do not disrupt the food supply chain. There is need for radical deployment of public funds to combat any likely food shortage across the country. Success will entail coherent and robust plans for our food systems, and our federal and provincial governments must outline a framework for how the country can think about and craft these plans.

We have plenty of ways to reduce its likelihood, and the sooner we adopt them the more we can avoid exacerbating the crisis. The first and foremost is to tackle the possible disruption in logistics especially in the areas where the most vulnerable people live. Interprovincial coordination is the need of the hour in this matter. We must enhance our capacity to provide food assistance to vulnerable populations. As more layoffs and reduced income put increased pressures on the people, lower-income households will need more cash to buy food items. Something economists in Pakistan have also been cautioning the government is that perishable food items need to be tackled first and then the staple food. The government must ensure provision of inputs to farmers, then allow continued mobility of labour in the agriculture sector (with testing as well as distancing issues sorted out), and finally, the shipment of food from farms to markets and from there to retailers must continue unhindered.



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