Second rapid assessment of food and nutrition security in the context of COVID-19 in Bangladesh: May – July 2020

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Executive summary

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published a first Rapid Assessment of Food and Nutrition Security in the Context of COVID-19 in Bangladesh based on qualitative data collected during April and May 2020. This second assessment involved more quantitative analysis of data collected from May and June by the FAO, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Institutes, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The analysis determined that the entire food supply chain was hampered by the COVID-19 lockdown and resulting economic crisis that occurred from mid-March to May. The study detailed and analyzed major impacts, which are summarized below:

Food insecurity: More than a third (36.4 percent) of the youth and adolescents surveyed in rural and urban areas reported moderate or severe food insecurity during the lockdown period. This figure is higher than the national average (31.5 percent) before the COVID-19 pandemic. Severely food-insecure populations reported going without eating for an entire day, exhaustion of food reserves, or both. Compared to changes in income status due to COVID-19, the highest prevalences of “moderate or severe food insecurity” (42.9 percent) and “severe food insecurity” (11.8 percent) were found in groups that reported concurrent losses in household income. The survey found that among youths, almost twice the proportion of boys (43.6 percent) reported higher moderate or severe food insecurity compared to girls (28.8 percent). Severe food insecurity was also reportedly higher among boys at 12.9 percent compared to girls at 5 percent. Across regions, Sylhet had the highest prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity (61.6 percent), followed by Rangpur (52.7 percent), and Mymensingh (51.7 percent). The lowest prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity was found in Barisal (14.9 percent). Similarly, the prevalence of severe food insecurity was highest in Sylhet (24.7 percent) followed by Rangpur (17.3 percent) and Khulna (16.3 percent).

Food reserves: Available data indicate that there are adequate domestic reserves of rice, wheat, potatoes, pulses and maize both in public and private storage to meet domestic demand until November. This time horizon is, however, relatively near, and available data indicate the need for urgent actions to assure continued national food supply, including potential emergency import actions for December 2020 and early 2021. Additional concerns are also starting to emerge if winter season (rabi) cropping – which commences in November – is impacted by a shortage of inputs, particularly for hybrid maize that largely relies on stocks of seed imported from India.

Food prices: Food prices generally increased during the lockdown, although the prices of many commodities have returned to more normal levels since commerce recovered at the end of May. Loss of income among daily wage earners reduced demand, causing market prices for poultry, eggs, dairy and beef to fluctuate. About 70 percent of workers in Bangladesh are in the informal sector, and the lockdown caused hardship for many of them. Although labour prices temporarily spiked, they appear to be returning to normal.

Agricultural inputs: Over 70 percent of surveyed farmers reported difficulties in obtaining agricultural inputs (e.g. seeds for the upcoming aus (spring) and aman (summer) seasons, fertilizers, pesticides, and diesel for irrigation pumps), new varieties of rice and extension services. More than 90 percent of surveyed farmers reported scarcity of labour and machinery for harvesting and threshing of boro (winter) rice and planting of aus rice. Eighty-five percent of surveyed agricultural input dealers reported a significant decline in business volumes in the pre- and post-pandemic onset period. Twenty percent of input dealers also appear to have faced more than a 50 percent decline in business compared to the same period in 2019.

Agricultural machinery service providers: Relative to 2019, agricultural machinery service providers reported a decline of more than 50 percent in farmer clients. This decline was most notable among service providers involved in assisting farmers in harvesting rice and maize and in preparing fields for the spring aus and summer aman rice crops. The decline appears to have occurred despite efforts by the Government of Bangladesh to support the winter boro rice harvest with emergency harvesting machinery arrangements. The operational area of service providers not involved in Government response programmes appears to have a strong negative correlation with access to or affordability of spare parts, access to mechanics and logistical issues with machine operators. These factors combined to cause a reduction in the amount of land area where machinery services could be provided during the height of the crisis.

Rice value chains: More than 90 percent of farmers interviewed reported a 20 to 30 percent increase in the farmgate price of procured winter season boro paddy this year compared to last year. This increase was the result of traders and rice millers buying and storing paddy in anticipation that the pandemic would inflate rice prices. With the completion of the boro season rice harvest, all rice mills surveyed are currently working. However, in terms of capacity, the exception is that aromatic rice processing mills – which represent an increasingly important market in Bangladesh – have not returned to their full capacity. Their sales have declined by about 50 percent because hotels, restaurants, and food catering for social events (weddings, meetings, workshops, etc.) have, for the most part, been shut down or suspended. Regarding planting of the summer aman rice crop, one-third of farmers responding to surveys indicated that they were unable to procure their preferred variety of rice seed due to market and associated COVID-19 restrictions. This indicates a shortage of high yielding rice seeds, which may impact production in the 2020 aman season.

Meat processors: One of the largest meat processing companies in Bangladesh reported a 20 percent decline in beef and mutton sales to consumers, and around an 80 to 90 percent reduction in business-to-business sales.
The company attributed its lost business to the limited operation of hotels and restaurants, and the lack of social ceremonies during the lockdown. Its total production declined by 30 to 40 percent while production costs have increased significantly due to measures they took to ensure safe food and accommodations for slaughterhouse and meat-packing workers. In addition, new challenges in sourcing raw materials and spices – particularly imported spices – are beginning to emerge.

Fish and vegetable exports: A total of 290 import orders of frozen fish worth approximately BDT 4.60 billion (USD 54.2 million) were recently cancelled. Unsold fish stocks were valued at BDT 9.99 billion (USD 117.8 million).
Similarly, there was a dramatic decline of vegetable and fruit exports from 100 tonnes a week down to 3 tonnes a week, down as a result of suspended air cargo shipments.

Fish value chain: Data indicate that the percentage of respondents able to access transport for fish sales dropped from 100 percent to 56 percent during the lockdown. Farmers and fish marketers able to find buyers dropped from 98 percent to 39 percent. While fish hatcheries experienced a moderate nine percent production increase for both catla and rohu hatchlings between March and April, the production of tilapia and mrigal hatchlings decreased by 78 percent and 24 percent, respectively. The total quantity and value of sold farmed fish, marine capture fish and shrimp all decreased, while that of freshwater capture fish increased. Both the quantity and value of farmed fish sold decreased by nearly 50 percent.

Dairy industry: Seventy-five percent of dairy farmers surveyed said they encountered considerable disruptions in getting milk to markets, causing them to suffer significant losses. They were also affected by disruptions in input supplies, such as dairy feed and veterinary medicines. Data indicate that average milk prices continued to drop until April, falling by 27 percent. They rebounded slightly in the following months but still remained 19 percent below the pre-crisis market price of February 2020. These survey responses indicate that farmers faced significant losses and were continuing to experience the ramifications of lost dairy sales at the time of this report’s publication. Among surveyed dairy producers, 52 percent believed the price decline of milk was the result of the mandatory shutdown of sweet shops, and the closures of hotels and tea stalls. Many popular sweets sold for family gatherings and social events are predominantly dairy-based. These factors caused the milk price to drop.

Social nets: As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, Government-sponsored social safety net programmes (SSNPs) for the 2020/21 fiscal year have focused mainly on expanding coverage of existing schemes with better targeting of beneficiaries. Emergency policies indicate that safety-net allocations will increase to include people made newly poor by the COVID-19 crisis. Statistics show the total number of beneficiaries increased by 42 percent from 2018-19 to 2019-20. Many of the planned Government allocations include assistance to the unemployed, cash transfers to the newly poor, and food transfers.

Recommendations: A list of short-term and long-term recommendations are synthesized from the results of this document.