The COVID-19 pandemic has highly affected the production, processing and distribution of seeds throughout the world. Quality seeds and their availability play a very fundamental role in developing resilient agricultural and food systems. Due to the worldwide spread of current pandemic, transportation sector has been almost shut down due to which many national and international flights have been reduced.
In such condition, the farmers and technicians involved in production and processing of seeds are facing huge problems on availability of market and trade. COVID-19 is bringing new challenges, including to smallholder farmers, seed systems, and seed security response. As the first wave of humanitarian assistance unfolds, centering on lifesaving interventions such as support to health centres, a second wave is already in the planning, to bolster fragile rural livelihoods. Seed security interventions are included in that second push, with the logic being that– if farmers have enough seed and of the right type— they can plant, harvest, and largely control essential food security themselves. Quality seed is a key agricultural input. All other inputs like fertilizer, irrigation, plant protection, etc will be useless if seed doesn’t germinate. It has been found that the use of quality seed increases the productivity of crops by 10-30% as compared to low-quality seed. But in the present scenario availability of quality seeds in local levels is very low as a result of which agricultural production and productivity of the country is being hampered.
Although many countries are working to keep borders open and trade flowing, a number of issues are emerging related to the business of trade. The increased cost of air transport due to the reduced availability of commercial flights may hamper seed supply chains and on-time delivery of seed. Limits on the mobility of people are affecting a variety of production, trade and sales processes. In addition, delays at borders due to stricter safety measures and fewer personnel are affecting timings and costs. Depending on how long the pandemic and associated confinement measures continue, the seed sector and its associated supply chains could feel the impact of COVID-19 long into the future.
The restrictions on movement put in place by governments to protect their people from COVID19 present a problem for all countries, but are likely to have a greater impact on developing countries like Nepal and least developed countries (LDCs) that are being particularly hard hit by the economic downturn. Our country, Nepal is also relatively more reliant on agriculture as a key economic sector, as well as a critical source of domestic food security. Although most spring and autumn seeds of crops like paddy and wheat had already arrived in Nepalese market before COVID-19 travel restrictions were put in place, but it is uncertain whether seeds that are currently being produced for sowing in the next growing seasons will arrive on time. Amidst the significant uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis, international cooperation is essential to keep trade flowing in order to fulfill the demand of quality seeds globally. In the scenario of Nepal, the pandemic has forced us to reflect on agricultural sustainability and food security in the country. Farming communities have been forced to confront questions of self-sustenance.
Although commercial farming is a means towards enhancing livelihoods, it is equally important to sustain local cereal production to ensure food and nutrition security at the community and household level. The disruptions caused by the pandemic and lockdown threaten to worsen malnutrition and stunting in mountain areas. Hunger and malnutrition can also amplify health risks. As coping mechanisms for the future, the cultivation of traditional crops like cereals and beans should be encouraged. There is also a growing market for these crops and urban consumers are willing to pay premium prices for traditional crops.
This can also help preserve indigenous farming knowledge and local crop varieties and landraces. Overall, these actions can create jobs and support the local economy. The establishment of local markets is equally important to prevent major losses and ensure the supply of essential commodities. News channels have reported that Nepal’s youth have begun cultivating abandoned lands on returning to their native villages due to the current pandemic. Since any recovery is expected to take time, the government should take steps to encourage youth to stay back and explore a future in agriculture and allied sectors. This will require joint efforts by local governments, non-profits, the private sector, banks and farmer cooperatives.
(Aarti Dhakal is currently a student of B.Sc.Ag in IAAS, Lamjung Campus.)