Since first detected in Wuhan city of China last December, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and its associated disease, Covid-19 has now spread to almost every country in the world. The virus outbreak has predominantly endangered the health and livelihoods of millions of people, along with resulting in the death of 3,03,413 individuals at the time of writing this article. In an attempt to control the further spread of the virus, many countries have announced a ‘state of emergency’ by shutting down their economies and halting all day-to-day physical activities. While such precautionary measures are imperative to protect human health; an economic stoppage can pose a serious threat to food, nutrition and water security across the globe.
Lockdowns are essentially harsher on low- and developing-economies as it greatly hampers their progress in achieving the global sustainable goal of zero hunger and poverty. In this backdrop, Nepal as a low-income-agrarian-economy is most vulnerable as it is highly dependent on the import of agricultural products from its neighbouring nations to fulfil the consumption needs of its domestic citizens.
The slow but continual spread of Covid-19 and the resultant nationwide lockdown has had startling effects on Nepal’s agriculture and food supply chain. Findings from a food security survey conducted by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) suggested that the domestic market currently has food stock which can only last for three more months. Similarly, the nationwide lockdown has severely impacted the harvesting period across the nation with significant cultivable lands being left barren. Moreover, with the border closure, import of essential food commodities from India has also been halted. All these indicate serious implications for food security in Nepal for the upcoming year. Hence, despite the government’s repeated assurance over sufficient food supply and stock, the ground reality seems to be contrastingly different with citizens fearing evitable food insecurity and hunger throughout 2020.
Impact on agriculture and food security
One of the major implications of the lockdown has been vividly observed among farmers and rural communities who are primarily engaged in agricultural activities for their subsistence. Due to restrictive travel restrictions and market unavailability, farmers across the nation are feeling hesitant in growing highly perishable agro-products. Likewise, the current erratic precipitation and rainfall (since April) has further added to the woes of these farmers. While rainfall is a good sign for crop harvesting, unprecedented seasonal change generally disrupts the preparatory agricultural work that goes in before any harvesting season. As a consequence, growth of crops like fresh seasonal vegetables, fruits, maize and wheat have been severely impacted. Agricultural experts have also suggested that a loss worth NPR 10 million has already been incurred by the agriculture sector, and more is yet to be incurred.
Furthermore, being an import dependent nation, Nepal is on an additional risk of facing future food shortage, provided India and China decide to impose a ban on food exports to Nepal. With no food left to cater to the demands of their domestic citizens, these nations could very well halt supply to the needs of the Nepalese market, rendering the latter onto a path of food crisis and large-scale hunger.
Lastly, our domestic market is currently facing high demand for various consumption goods; however, our supply side is weak due to various complications. This can cause a market imbalance which not only gives rise to market asymmetries, but can also cause an unethical rise in retail prices of goods; eventually leading the domestic food supply chain towards a market failure.
Measures to control future food insecurity
While the coronavirus pandemic has huge repercussions on human health and the economy, it has more salient effects on agriculture, especially for developing nations like Nepal. To address such uncertainties, several short-term and long-term reforms are needed to maintain a stable food supply chain, such as-
Encouraging local food sufficiency- regular sale of agricultural commodities is a big opportunity for local producers and farmers to bring in their produce and meet the market demand for food commodities. Consumers themselves too can practice roof-top farming of desired crops by harvesting them, using local and home methods. This reduces their dependency on other local growers and farmers along with reducing their chances of catching the virus due to excess market exposure.
Procurement of seeds on local level- In Nepal, farmers are highly dependent on procuring seed, fertilizers, and pesticides from multinational corporations. To reduce this dependency, the local government could encourage the private sector to invest in production of raw materials by introducing incentive programmes including subsidy in production of organic inputs. Likewise, the use of locally produced manures and pesticides which can be generated from municipal solid waste could also reduce foreign imports of bio-pesticides and fertilizers.
Increasing employment in agriculture- The pandemic also provides new opportunities for the government to revive its previous agricultural initiatives including the Agricultural Perspective Plan (APP) and the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project (PM-AMP). With huge hectares of cultivable land being barren, the local government could make provisions of ‘land banks’ to provide land to landless farmers. This provides employment opportunities along with reducing any probable food crisis due to less food production.
Monitoring of the food market- The government needs to practice social protection mechanisms to protect the most vulnerable class of people during such emergencies. For this, close monitoring of the food market can help in controlling price hike of commodities along with ensuring smooth operation of the agricultural supply chain. Moreover, it can also reduce the occurrence of price differentiation by maintaining uniformity in retail food prices.
Increase in import tariffs- The government could also support domestic production of essential food items by imposing a partial quota system on commodities including paddy, coffee, tea, wheat, maize, mustard, ginger etc. This would help in balancing the domestic food market by meeting the demand in the longer run.
Nepal’s agriculture sector has faced multiple challenges that have had consequential impacts on the entire economy. The country has been resilient in surviving through several droughts, famines, earthquakes and even border blockades. However, the current coronavirus pandemic has posed new economic ramifications which are beyond any understanding. With the nation shut, industries closed, and borders sealed, there’s little to what we can do to revive or protect our economy. However, we have to take responsibility towards limiting the influence of the disease and on our food supply chain. For this, hoarding and stockpiling of goods needs to be stopped to minimize the pressure on the supply side. Similarly, implementing new plans, policies and relief packages is also needed to ensure sustainable agricultural production, maintain food security, support resilience of small-scale farmers, and provide essential subsidies.
Poverty, economic decline and food insecurity are synonyms to one another. To combat them, efforts from all three levels of governance are required; otherwise, we will end up facing shocks and consequences which are more detrimental than the virus itself.
 “Covid-19 affecting food security in Nepal: WFP”, The Nepali Times, 19 April 2020. Retrieved from- https://www.nepalitimes.com/latest/covid-19-affecting-food-security-in-nepal-wfp/
 “Impact of Covid-19 on Nepal’s Agriculture: The Road Ahead”, Timilsina & Ghimire, Agricultural Extension in South Asia, 28 May 2020. Retrieved from- https://www.aesanetwork.org/blog-118-impact-of-covid-19-on-nepals-agriculture-the-road-ahead/
 “COVID-19: Menace to Nepalese agriculture”, Kiran Timilsina, People’s Review, 10 April 2020. Retrieved from- https://www.peoplesreview.com.np/2020/04/10/covid-19-menace-to-nepalese-agriculture/