The COVID-19 Pandemic and Agriculture - English Version of Pharak Sandesh

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Monday, June 29, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Agriculture

By Dinesh Paudel 
Nepal is agrarian country and a home to natural beauty with traces of artifacts. Agriculture contributes on an average 27% to GDP and employs 60.4% of total population in Nepal and represents 13% of the foreign trade. However, Nepalese agriculture is affected by various factors of low productivity, climate change, lack of inputs and mechanization. Only 21% of the total land is cultivated. Economic growth of the country has not improved markedly over time to overtake population growth. The CoVID-19 virus pandemic has led to unprecedented interruptions in economic activity around the world. With over 10,000 cases in Nepal and over 950,000 cases (and growing), actual and potential impacts to Nepal’s agriculture and rural economies are mounting. This has aroused worse situation in Nepal decreasing country’s GDP. 

Many people agree with the claim that the COVID -19 pandemia is going to modify our lives beyond social distancing measures. Impacts will probably differ among different dimension of society. There will probably be direct impacts that are easier to identify. But what about cascading effects? Indirect effects are difficult to pinpoint. Regarding agriculture, the question for discussion and casual chain analysis is: What could be the sequence of effects on agriculture in general and crop protection in particular? 

At a glance, it is worth emphasizing that COVID-19 is not a food borne crisis. This outbreak doesn’t imply any direct food safety issues for consumers. Thus, disruptions in the sector – should they occur- will not stem from issues related to agricultural and food products, but rather from COVID 19 related challenges to supply chain. The impact of pandemic in agriculture is not unidirectional but multifaceted, indeed. The major impact of this pandemic, in my view, is directly on input use, production and marketing activities mainly and indirectly on consumption. The food supply chain is a complex network, and agriculture is one of its most fundamental components in country. One of the main services of the agricultural sector is food production, providing raw material for other sectors, employment and income generation. The agricultural sector is one of the most important and influential sectors in the country’s food security, a permanent economy, a shock absorber and a neutralizer of economic tactics. So, the need for attention and planning in this field, and the opportunities of this sector in the development of other activities, it is necessary to identify and examine its effect on these categories due to this novel corona crisis, and practical and executive solutions for organizations and relevant authorities should be provided. 

The food supply chain includes various phases of production, processing of goods (factories) and transportation, storage (and warehousing), retail and good services. Although there was no or less supply shock today due to the availability of food, due to its upward role, the vulnerabilities need to be identified and reduced. In production section, we are faced with farmers and workers, agricultural experts, tools, equipments and mechanization, agricultural inputs including fuel, seeds, seedlings, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. and basic resources including soil, water, plants and livestock. There are many other different things to offer, but the most important thing is to shorten the production and supply route, and to deliver it to all consumers. With so many odds against there should still be hope in agricultural activity. For one thing, the demand for food will always be there and farmers have to maintain the supply. Of course, they may need to adjust to changing demand and supply less perishable products. It is absolutely necessary to avoid disruption the supply chain. The farm to fork process needs to be maintained. In new context may be farmers need to cooperate more among them in order to integrate other activities, such as storage and transportation, with their usual production activities. Due to tjis pandemic, proximity markets are going to be more important. 

Globalization is likely to lose ground. In the medium and long term, the consequences of the pandemic are still very uncertain and farmers will need to adapt to the new realities. However, in the very short term, some unexpected dramatic situations arise. While the pandemic are still spreading and government have to resort to strict confinement the mobility of farm laborers who need to move from plantation to plantation is highly restricted for the sake of preventing further spread of the viral contagion which automatically leads to a drastic shortage of labors that often ends in the loss of harvests. Although there are good reason to be pessimistic about the gloomy outlook of the consequences of the pandemic there are some bright spots that can be materialize. The demand for food will always be growing. 

Energy prices will be lower, at least in the short and medium term. It is important to let farmer know how essential they are in the future economics order. It is also true that they may have to reinvent themselves and adopt new farming habits, cooperate with each other rather than compete, and use whatever technological resources they can have access too. The major takeaway point is the need to decrease interdependence on food supply among others. The importance of agriculture cannot be more reinforced in the light of such circumstances.

(Note: Writer, Student of BSc.Ag., Agriculture and Forestry University, Rampur, Chitwan)
Twitter: @Dneshpaudel

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