With many South Asian nations having experienced a crippling second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic this year - and we are all too aware of course, that cases are still rising in places like Bangladesh - it was reassuring to learn that the response it has elicited from policymakers has laid the groundwork for stronger, more resilient food supply systems. That is according to the Global Food Policy Report 2021, the flagship annual report of the International Food Policy Research Institute, which underscores that the pandemic has revealed both resilience and vulnerabilities in South Asian food systems.
Although limited to covering the events during the first wave, or 2020, the report broadly observes that across the region, the agriculture sector grew, food prices remained relatively stable, and no food security crisis was reported during the period in question. Of course, when it comes to food security, we all know it was never under threat from the virus itself, but rather from the measures that governments around the world were forced to adopt in order to break the chains of transmission of the virus. This was confirmed in the report, as it said that although the lockdowns imposed to varying degree from country to country did help in containing the infection rates, they created bigger shocks to national economies than the pandemic itself.
It added that to mitigate the impacts on the economy governments enacted a wide range of policies aimed at saving lives, protecting livelihoods and stimulating economies. The countries in the South Asian region in many ways defied the experts' predictions in terms of economic performance, food price stabilisation, and protection of livelihoods. This resilience can largely be attributed to the region's decades of investments in infrastructure and institutions for social transfers and safety nets programs, as well as the expansion of many of these programs. Surveys conducted by IFPRI found that public transfer systems for food, security, health, and nutrition have largely performed well in the region.
"We have known for a while now that there are major problems with our food systems, that they are unequal and unsustainable," said Johan Swinnen, director general of IFPRI. "This crisis has revealed these problems in a way that none of us can ignore, but it has also demonstrated that we have effective ways to address these problems".
However, the report also cautioned that there's no room for complacency, of the kind that drove the second wave in the region that overwhelmed health systems and significantly disrupted livelihoods earlier this year. Till now, even as the infection rate has ravaged the region, forcing policymakers to prolong lockdowns, food supplies have held up. Let us keep our fingers crossed that this bright spot holds up through the second wave as well.
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