The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has warned of food insecurity in Bangladesh during this protracted Covid-19 pandemic for its higher dependence on Indian rice.
Bangladesh and two other South Asian peers-Nepal and Sri Lanka-would be vulnerable to trade disruptions, given their high reliance on rice imports from India.
The note of caution came from a latest report of the Manila-based lender styled 'Food Security in Asia and the Pacific amid the Covid-19 Pandemic'.
The lender said the pandemic increased food security risks in Asia and the Pacific as strict quarantine measures and export bans on basic food items have affected all stages of food supply chain.
Since nearly 90 per cent of Bangladeshi workers are working in the informal sector, it said, they would be at higher risk of impoverishment because of the crisis.
From the South Asian perspective, the informal workers are 70 per cent in this subcontinent, the ADB informed.
"Household food consumption and nutrition have been significantly affected by loss of jobs and income and limited access to food," the food security report said.
"Informal sector workers-70 per cent of total employment in the SA region- in particular, are at higher risk," it added.
Citing the 2007-2008 food crisis, the report said it was estimated that 45 per cent of the increase in rice prices and 30 per cent in wheat prices resulted from trade restrictions during the crisis.
Compared with that crisis, the current food security concern is mainly driven by supply disruptions and logistic constraints caused by quarantine and lockdown measures, it apprehended.
As of May and since the COVID-19 outbreak, 22 countries have implemented restrictive food trade policy measures.
Learning lessons from the 2007-2008 crisis, regional policy-makers need to be careful not to turn a health crisis into a food crisis.
The report suggested keeping food supply chains secure and functioning and mitigating the pandemic's impact on vulnerable groups.
Policy responses to COVID-19 in Asia's developing countries have focused more on social protection and production support than on banning food exports, it said.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting both food supply and demand with uncertain effects on food prices," the according to the report.
"The likely path of food prices will be subject to the duration of the pandemic, dynamics of food supply and demand as well as policy actions to mitigate effects."
For consumers, the ADB has suggested governments increase coverage, relax conditionalities and enhance the benefits of social protection programmes, particularly during lockdowns.
These are critical to ensure that vital support reaches those disproportionately affected by COVID-19's health and economic impacts.
For producers, the ADB has advised enhancing immediate support to smallholder farmers' access to markets.
During lockdown, it is challenging for farmers in rural areas where updated information is limited to knowing where ad hoc or non-regular markets are taking place.
The lender has also recommended free trade and regional cooperation.
"Countries should collaborate to avert food shortages and price spikes by ensuring free trade and strengthening regional mechanisms for food security."
It also suggests direct online marketing, enhanced price risk management system, movement toward agricultural technology, institutional and legislative reforms, and targeted support to poor and smallholder farmers through agricultural reforms.
However, Bangladesh is on a comfortable zone so far as its rice production has been satisfactory in the last Boro season.
A recent World Agricultural Production report of the US Department of Agriculture estimated that Bangladesh would have 36-million tonnes or rice during the 2020-21 period.
The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute said the country's annual consumption requirement of rice is 35-million tonnes and last year's total production was higher than the estimated demand.
Until May 11, rice stock at public godowns was 0.99-million tonnes and wheat stock 0.28-million tonnes.