COVID-19 induced economic loss and ensuring food security for vulnerable groups

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At present, nearly half of the world’s population is under some form of government restriction to curb the spread of COVID-19. In Bangladesh, in the wake of five deaths and 48 infections early in the year, the government imposed a nationwide lockdown between March 24 and May 30, 2020. Until April 17, 38 of the country’s 64 districts were under complete lockdown.

“While this lockdown restricted the spread of the disease, in the absence of effective support, it can generate severe food and nutrition insecurity for daily wage-based workers,” says Khondoker Mottaleb, an agricultural economist based at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Of the 61 million people who make up Bangladesh’s employed labor force, nearly 35% are paid daily. In a new study published in PLOS ONE, Mottaleb examines the food security and welfare impacts of the lockdowns on these daily-wage workers — in both farm and non-farm sectors — who are comparatively more resource-poor in terms of land ownership and education, and therefore likely to be hit hardest by a loss in earnings.

Using information from 50,000 economically active workers in Bangladesh, collected by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the study quantifies the economic losses from the COVID-19 lockdowns based on daily-wage workers’ lost earnings and estimates the minimum compensation packages needed to ensure their minimum food security during the lockdown period.

Using the estimated daily wage earnings, the authors estimate that a one-day, complete lockdown generates an economic loss equivalent to $64.2 million. After assessing the daily per capita food expenditure for farm and non-farm households, the study estimates the need for a minimum compensation package of around $1 per day per household to ensure minimum food security for the daily wage-based worker households.

In May 2020, the Government of Bangladesh announced the provision of approximately $24 per month to two million households, half of whom will receive additional food provision. While this amount is in line with Mottaleb’s findings, he stresses than this minimum support package is only suitable for the short-term, and that in the event of a prolonged lockdown period it will be necessary to consider additional support for other household costs such as clothing, medicine and education.

“Without effective support programs, the implementation of a strict lockdown for a long time may be very difficult, if poor households are forced to come out to search for work, money and food,” explains Mottaleb. “In the event of a very strict lockdown scenario, the government should consider issuing movement passes to persons and carriers of agricultural input and output to support smallholder agriculture, wage workers and agricultural value chains.”

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COVID-19 induced economic loss and ensuring food security for vulnerable groups: Policy implications for Bangladesh

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Feature image: A rice farmer in central Bangladesh tends to his crop. (Photo: Scott Wallace/World Bank).

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