Averting an agricultural crisis: Setting Food And Nutrition Systems right during Covid-19 times

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by Nafees Meah, Prakashan Chellattan Veettil and Basanta Kumar Kar (Recipient of Global Nutrition Leadership Award and a Transform Nutrition Champion)

The exponential spread of the COVID-19 virus has forced many countries in the developed and developing world to take unprecedented policy and regulatory measures, such as the temporary lockdown of the entire country in order to break the chain of transmission. These restrictions have imposed a complete or partial shutdown of their production, manufacturing, and service economies.

A 21-day lockdown in India was announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the 25th of March and is scheduled to last until the 15th of April. Although rice production and value chain associated activities were exempted as essential services, the lockdown is seriously impacting the entire agricultural sector, and the rice agri-food system in particular. For example, many rice mills across the country have stopped working due to disrupted supply chains and shortage of workers. Managing logistics, labour, machinery, and services, especially during the current Rabi crop harvesting, will be one of the biggest short-term challenges India is likely to face.

A number of measures have been introduced by the Union and State Governments to alleviate hunger and provide income for the poor, and in particular farmers, during the course of the lockdown. These include a slew of exemptions and relaxations for agriculture and allied sectors; the provision of mid-day meals, supplementary nutrition, or food security allowances; and increased monthly quotas of subsidized food grains. Many states are going the extra mile, providing financial support to the vulnerable through monthly allowances to daily wage laborers using Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT). Given that there are substantial stocks of cereals held by the Food Corporation of India (over 70 million tons), there ought…

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