CGIAR Centres, a major grouping of the world's top agriculture and food research organizations, today issued a statement identifying impending Covid-19 impacts on yields, nutrition and agriculture trading and appreciated simultaneously the government responses to the concerns.
"We are encouraged that essential inputs continue to be provided through ongoing agricultural business trade and that appropriate farm machinery is being used for timely harvesting," read a statement of the network that included the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
The network promised to stand by Bangladesh in mitigating Covid-19 impact on food system and expected the government announcement to extend financial support particularly for seed purchase and requisition of wheat and rice to largely mitigate the crisis in food sector.
But the grouping simultaneously feared that "despite strong efforts to address Covid-19's impacts", the pandemic exposed farmers, traders, extension officers, and agricultural businesses to "unprecedented challenges".
The other partners of the CGIAR Centres are International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and WorldFish.
The statement said in their initial rapid analyses the network identified a series of emerging concerns, with the first one being "notable reductions in the availability of perishable foods, including vegetables, fruits, and fish, which are crucial for health and nutrition".
It said farmers by now began to face challenges in selling perishable goods at reasonable prices while despite price control measures, consumers in urban areas started encountering inflated food prices, with some crucial commodities becoming unaffordable, especially for the poor.
The statement said though trucks were permitted to transport agricultural inputs and produces despite the nationwide lockdown, informal and courier transport services that play a key role in input supply and food distribution were suffering.
"The livestock, poultry, and aquaculture sectors are suffering as the supply of essential feeds and veterinary services have been disrupted and are experiencing unprecedented shocks," the statement read.
It said social distancing measures appear to be slowing ongoing horticultural and boro crop harvests while "delays in maize harvests loom as a near-term concern".
The network found reduced food and labor demand by food processors, supermarkets, eateries, restaurants, and hotels are, in turn, impacting hundreds of thousands in the service industry.
In view of the concerns and challenges, the CGIAR Centres came up with a series of suggestions urging the government to consider them for "priority actions" to avert further risks to Bangladesh's food systems.
The grouping said they believed enhanced permissions for transportation to assure the flow of food from rural to urban areas and the flow of crucial inputs to farmers through market systems.
"Key among these are guaranteeing the supply of horticultural, fish and livestock products – in addition to the staple foods, rice and wheat – to provide diverse, nutritious and safe diets for all," the statement said.
The network sought measures to reduce shocks to financial and logistics systems associated with agriculture to minimize impacts on farmers' incomes to be caused by high inputs and labor costs and lower than normal farm gate prices.
It said he farmers must have expanded access to finance options in need of capital to assure production while support for the private sector was also crucial because of its role in providing affordable inputs to farmers.
The network said the government should devise ways to support the flow of remittances and cash flows to rural areas alongside reviewing options to support people who were dependent on income from farm labour.
"As seen in the response to the social distancing challenges currently affecting boro harvest, scale-appropriate farm mechanization options will also become increasingly important to assure timely operations," it said.
The statement stressed action plans to support Bangladesh's food systems in response to Covid-19-prompted international trade restrictions, fearing that even partial closure of ports might result in high prices and limited stocks of pulses, edible oils, wheat, and supplies of feed like maize and soybean.
"Similarly, although current national stocks appear to be initially sufficient, prolonged suspension of international trade could undermine the future supply of key inputs (particularly phosphorous and potassium fertilizers, vaccinations, pesticides, and fuel) at reasonable prices," it said.
. The CGIAR Centres urged the government to activate effective intelligence monitoring systems to provide timely data informing policy decisions to help address problems before they evolved into serious crises risking food security.
It said systems were needed to ensure complete and even distribution of messages to all levels, monitor farmers' access to inputs and input prices, provide comprehensive monitoring of staple foods, horticultural, fish and livestock prices, pest and disease monitoring and production forecasting.
The CGIAR Centres said they remained committed to support the government in mitigating the risks to food systems during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
The statement said the network would extend its supports by conducting crucial research, collecting and analysing data, developing food and nutrition security response strategies, and advising on appropriate policies, with emphasis on mitigating the impacts of shocks on the most vulnerable.
The network also outlined their specific actions to assist the government that included evidence-based advising on appropriate policies and technologies.