Nepal | July 05, 2020

WFP sounds food crisis warning

Himalayan News Service
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Kathmandu, April 29

World Food Programme Nepal has launched its first update report to track Nepal’s food security situation as the novel coronavirus and its secondary economic impacts are felt in the country.

As per the COVID-19 Food Security and Vulnerability update recently published by WFP Nepal, national food stocks in markets are sufficient to last three months overall as of mid-April, while national rice stocks with Nepal Food Management and Trading Company stand at 23,675 metric tonnes with procurement planned for another 10,000 metric tonnes.

Preliminary advance estimates of wheat production in the country show a slight increase from last year, driven by favourable rainfall during the planting and maturity periods of crop growth in December-February. March-April marks the start of the wheat harvest, but restrictions on movement of people, combined with absence or shortage of daily agricultural wage labour and machinery from other regions could impact the final harvest. Significant reductions in the harvest of wheat and winter crops, and in the planting of rice and summer crops could have serious implications for food security in the coming months, read the report.

The nationwide lockdown and slowdowns induced by COVID-19 in all major sectors of the economy is expected to affect Nepal’s most vulnerable and food insecure populations. Massive slowdown in tourism, service and manufacturing sectors have resulted in widespread work stoppages and layoffs. Around 62 per cent workers in Nepal are employed in the informal sector, with little recourse to social insurance.

According to the report, markets continue to remain open in most cases at reduced hours (2-4 hours per day) across the country. Food commodity prices have increased during the lockdown period. In most of the districts surveyed, increases in cereals and pulses prices were moderate, rarely exceeding 20 per cent. However, vegetable prices more than doubled in several districts. The price rise is attributed to slowdown in market supply, as low circulation of goods leads to scarcity, and supply cannot keep up with demand. Other perishable food items such as dairy products and eggs are encountering similar hardships, with many instances of stocks spoiling at the farms as farmers struggle to market their goods.

While overall market supplies are sufficient for the time being, if this situation continues beyond a month, subsequent depletion of cereal and pulses stock, especially in remote markets, could push staple prices even higher in the absence of decisive government intervention.

The lockdown is creating market failure, with instances of farmers having goods spoil at the farm even as market prices soar. Households affected by the lockdown, work stoppages and movement restrictions are in most instances resorting to coping strategies. This includes relying on less preferred, less expensive foods, borrowing money or food from friends/relatives, and reducing the number of meals per day.

“If the present trend continues, food insecurity is expected to increase among households engaged in informal labour, precarious labour, service sector and daily wage work, as well as households with returnee migrants and income losses,” the report warned.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on April 30, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.

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