Bangladesh may still be in a relatively good position when it comes to food security, all things considered, but that may change if the food supply chain cannot be kept intact. There are already warning signs on the horizon. We have had reports of growing disruptions in the local production and supply chains after cyclone Amphan, which served to accentuate the effects of months-long lockdown restrictions by destroying vast swathes of land and properties in the coastal region. Farmers are among the hardest hit groups in the Covid-19 crisis. While talking to The Daily Star recently, Dr Jahangir Alam, an agricultural economist, has rightly stressed the need to help farmers on a priority basis, which he tied with the imperative need of keeping the food supply chain intact.
He identified two factors responsible for farmers not getting fair prices for their produce: first, the dwindling purchasing capacity of a large section of the people now struggling with no work and no earnings; second, the failure to transport large portions of vegetables, milk, fish, chicken, eggs and other dairy and agricultural products to the cities. Transport owners hiking transportation fares is exacerbating the crisis. If this trend continues, small and medium farmers with fewer coping strategies will incur heavy losses. They will become frustrated and won't go into production in the next season. This, coupled with the disruptions in the international market, may offset our gains in the past months and threaten our food security. It's important to remember that we may still be self-sufficient in rice, but we import around 60 lakh tonnes of grains—maize and wheat—every year. Much of our dairy, poultry, and fish production depends on maize, the main food for livestock. We need to make sure we produce these grains domestically, and also prepare better to boost local rice production. This is largely possible if farmers are allowed to do their job and weather the disruptions properly.
The government has a huge role to play in this regard. Considering their important role in keeping the supply chain intact, the government should help farmers grow, preserve and get fair prices for their produce, facilitate low-cost transportation of food products to the market, and make farm inputs such as imported fertilisers and insecticides available for them, especially ahead of the Aman and subsequent Boro seasons. Importantly, the government can further reduce the interest rates for both general farm loans and loans declared under the stimulus packages. This is the only logical thing to do given the enormous burden farmers are carrying on their shoulders.