Maintaining sustainable food system during COVID-19 pandemic

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Photo: Aung Moe

By Than Oo (Lay Hmyet Hnar)

FAO member countries, including Myanmar, have made sincere efforts to gain significant achievements in promoting productivity in the agricultural sector in the past decades. However, famine, obesity, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, food waste, weakness in the security of the life of workers in the food production chain, and the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic on food supply chains and food systems are continuing.
Despite increases in the production of food globally, an estimated 2 billion people throughout the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient quantities of food. An estimated 135 million people in 55 countries around the world are facing acute levels of hunger, and the COVID-19 pandemic could nearly double the number of people suffering from serious hunger. Therefore, the Food and Agriculture Organization has announced that there is an urgent need to provide assistance for food, nutrition and securing proper livelihoods for the people.
The FAO’s statement said the global population is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050. According to this estimate, the supply for the world’s food security would significantly increase, and if we can not change current food systems, we might suffer by 2050 due to the weakened security of food supplies and increased malnutrition.
Good nutrition plays an important part in leading a healthy life. To ensure receiving essential nutrients, we need to eat fish, meat and vegetables. During the past decades, diet practices and food styles of human beings changed significantly. Due to unhealthy foods and lifestyles, preventable diseases are occurring, not only in developing and poor countries, but also in developed ones. On the other hand, vegetables, meat and poultry production sectors are suffering from natural disasters, due to climate change and over-use of chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides in the agricultural sector, which has caused damage to the health of consumers.
Meanwhile, the world’s countries have experienced the impact of global warming and climate change for over a decade. Due to environmental degradation and the decreasing biodiversity, the world is facing the impact of the disease on meat and poultry production. Efforts to control diseases with the use of chemicals have caused significant challenges for the safety and nutrition of food, and we are tackling these problems today. These facts have been pushing us to change our food systems.
It is known to all that while experiencing and tackling annual floods, drought, landslides and outbreaks of diseases on vegetables and meat, the world’s countries are facing the global pandemic of COVID-19, posing a threat to the lives of human beings.
During this time, every country needs to lay down short-term and long-term plans, and to implement them in response to the pandemic, depending on the situation in their respective countries. In response to the pandemic, the governments of the world’s countries, balancing the loads they can shoulder and their capabilities, have to take measures to provide emergency food aid to those people who are suffering from the pandemic, to provide assistance which can ensure sustainable agricultural production, to adopt required policies and rules and orders, which can ensure sustainable food systems and cooperation from foreign countries.
Though we are experiencing an ongoing crisis during these difficult times, we must make efforts to ensure we do not deviate from our ultimate goal, “To end all forms of hunger and malnutrition”. To feed the increasing population of the world and to bring sustainability and prosperity to the world, the world’s people, including us, must work together to establish a sustainable food system through the production of different kinds of vegetables with appropriate nutrition.
Therefore, I want to let you know that the Food and Agriculture Organization designated the theme, “Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together. Our actions are our Future” for this year’s World Food Day.
As Myanmar, our country, is an agro-based country, we laid down policies for the agriculture sector, a strategy for the agriculture sector, and short-term and long-term plans to produce good, nutritious and safe food for our people’s daily consumption.
Understanding that producing crops with different varieties plays an important role in leading to the conservation of the natural environment and producing food with sufficient nutrition, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation laid down the National Seed Policy and has implemented it to obtain quality strains of seeds, including hybrid species of local strains.
With the aim of sustainably producing safe agricultural produce offering superior nutrition, the ministry announced the Good Agricultural Practice-GAP Guidelines, in line with the ASEAN GAP guidelines, to ensure flourishing Good Agricultural Practice-GAP and organic practices in our country, and has been making efforts for growing new crops.
Myanmar’s livestock sector has the potential to produce enough meat for the country’s population, but it is required to disseminate GAHP knowledge to farmers to ensure that they expand their manageable livestock farming, if they are to meet current commercial requirements.
Similarly, in the poultry and fish farming sectors, measures are being taken to produce meat and fish, in accordance with the Good Animal Husbandry Practice-GAHP and Good Aquaculture Practice-GAqP.
With the aim of producing safe food with sufficient nutrition, earning extra incomes from selling surplus vegetables, and supplying safe and good nutritious vegetables to local markets, home gardening and school gardening programmes are being implemented, and training was given to over 970 households, while model plots were established on 0.5 acres in two village-tracts, each in regions and states.
On the other side, impacts from climate change have affected cultivation, and the Union Government has provided K23.68 billion and 246,52 baskets of paddy seeds to small farmers, so far, during the term of the incumbent government, to ensure that farmers can re-plant their crops.
With the aim of providing quality food which can guarantee good health to the people, the ministry conducted 552 training sessions nationwide on producing safe value-added products with good nutrition, and 11,852 trainees participated in these sessions. Additionally, 18,711 laboratory tests for food have been conducted, to date, by the FDA Department.
The State has been taking necessary measures to ensure operation of producing and services in which many industries, including agriculture and livestock producers, are involved due to the consequences of travel restrictions and delays in the flow of trade, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak since March 2020.

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Photo: Aung Moe

Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation spent K92.61 billion on raising awareness about COVID-19 for workers in the agriculture and livestock industries and farmers, in response to the COVId-19 virus, assisting farmers in receiving inputs for 100,000 acres of paddy seed production for rain-fed farms under the COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan-CERP, in an effort to reduce damage to crops, fish and meat production due to COVID-19, establishing the Village Revolving Fund Project in 1,710 villagers for rural people, implementing Cash for Work projects, providing cash assistance and loans to small and medium livestock farmers to supply inputs for their farms, distributing fingerlings to inland fish farmers, conducting rounds of training for 10,000 fish farmers, providing harvesting services to 2,000 acres of rain-fed paddy fields in seven regions, including the Nay Pyi Taw Council Area, making arrangements for selling agricultural machinery to farmers on instalments and conducting marketable vocational training.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, in cooperation with international organizations including Food and Agriculture Organization-FAO, is always working to abide by its three main responsibilities: for food security, for the safety of food and for development of rural areas, in accordance with the directives and guidelines laid down by the Union Government. Our efforts, in line with this year’s theme of World Food Day, have resulted in producing safe food with good nutrition for the country’s people, including residents in rural areas, and sharing our surplus with the world’s countries, and due to these benefits, we solemnly believe that we can support the building of a prosperous world.
While remaining true to the theme of this year’s World Food Day, let us work together for sustainable development of our earth through producing diverse crops which are safe and offer superior nutrition. (Translated by AMS)

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