Food security will not be ensured even after having adequate volume of food grains as the system may fail to ensure its availability at affordable prices for all
Though the UN has warned about how coronavirus protective measures could jeopardize food security around the world, experts said Bangladesh is unlikely to face such a problem only if the government can ensure people’s access to food as it has enough food stock.
They also said the government should not be complacent with its huge food stock as it has a big challenge to ensure its availability at the doorsteps of the affected people through various social safety net programs and food rationing system.
The government should also keep the prices of the essentials affordable through proper market intervention in a bid to ensure food security.
According to the experts, the government’s measures to provide people with food aid are not sufficient when millions involved in the informal sector have become temporarily unemployed with the gradual loss of their buying capacity due to the shutdown of economic activities.
They also warned that food security will not be ensured even after having adequate volume of food grains as the system may fail to ensure its availability at every nook and corner always within the buying capacity of all.
Sarwar Mahmud, DG of the Directorate General of Food, said the country is unlikely to face any food crisis even if the coronavirus situation prevails for a long time due to adequate stock of food grains, including rice, wheat, potatoes, and other essential commodities.
“We are not worried about food security since Bangladesh is not a food-deficit country. We got a bountiful Aman production while we are expecting an impressive production of Boro paddy as well,” he added.
The DG said they have around 1.4 million metric tons of rice and 300,000 metric tons of wheat while rice traders, millers, wholesalers, and farmers have more food grains stock than the government has.
“Many people also hoarded food out of their fear of food crisis. So, our food grains stock is adequate to meet the country’s demand for more than a year,” he added.
Besides, he said Boro harvest will begin just after a month which will boost the food grain stock further.
Good production of crops
Agriculture Secretary Md Nasiruzzaman said coronavirus has no impact on Bangladesh’s agriculture sector and they do not think the country’s food security will be at stake if the corona situation prolongs.
“We have got a bumper production of Aman and Aush crop. We will also have had a good production of Boro. We produced almost all crops and vegetables this season much more than what we did last year. So, we will not face any food crisis under any situation,” he said.
Nasir said farmers produced around 2.3 million metric tons of onions last year while they expect it to be more than 2.5 million metric tons this year.
“We got over one crore metric tons of potatoes last year while the farmers produced around 10.9 million metric tons of the crop this year against the local demand for 70,000 metric tons,” he added.
Besides, he said, farmers also this year produced over 5,000 metric tons of vegetables more than what they did last year.
“Agricultural activities remain unaffected amid the coronavirus shutdown as farmers usually work maintaining social distancing. Most of our crops, except Boro paddy, jute and maize, have already been produced. So, there is no reason to be worried about any food crisis,” the secretary added.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi at a recent press conference said the government has enough stock of food grains and daily household items.
“There is no scope for shortage of food since the government has stockpiled about 40% more goods this year than it had last year," he said.
The minister said 260,000 tons of pulses were imported in 2018-19 financial year, while 210,000 tons pulses have already been imported over the last seven months.
He said they have also imported enough edible oil and onion to meet the local demand of the items.
Access to food at affordable prices
Former caretaker government finance adviser Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam said the country may not face any food crisis as the stock looks enough to deal with the coronavirus situation.
“But the main worries are whether people will have the access to food or the food will be available for people at affordable prices,” he added.
He said people’s buying capacity is declining with the suspension of most economic activities to prevent the virus.
“Besides, many people have lost their sources of earning and become temporarily jobless. So, it is the main challenge to ensure food for them by widening the social safety net programs,” the former adviser added.
The noted economist said the government must strengthen its food aid support mainly for the day-labourers and those involved in the informal sector to ensure food safety of all citizens.
He said the government announced a stimulus package of Tk 5,000 crore for the RMG sector, but it did not spell out any such package for those engaged in informal sector, the source of 85% of total employment in the country.
Mirza Aziz said the rich should come forward and corporate houses should use their CSR funds to stand by the affected people alongside the government to ensure food security.
Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Prof Mustafizur Rahman said Bangladesh is in a better position than many other coronavirus-hit countries in terms of food production and food stock.
“But food security does not only mean having adequate food grains. The notion of food security involves proper distribution of food, availability of food, and people’s purchasing capacity,” he added.
He said nearly 10 million day-labourers have lost their jobs while the overwhelming majority of 27 million people in the informal sector have become temporarily unemployed and they are gradually losing their purchasing capacity.
“The government should look into this matter so that these huge number of people can have food,” the prof added.
Besides, Mustafiz said, many people returned to their village homes but they have no income now. “So, the government must introduce food rationing system alongside strengthening other programs under the social safety net. Food security will be ensured when people will have access to food.”
He said the government also must remain alert and strengthen market monitoring so that unscrupulous businessmen cannot create artificial food crisis taking advantage of the situation.