Waleed Ahmed Khan Lahore Pakistan
How COVID-19 may disrupt food supply chains in Pakistan
COVID-19 is spreading through the developing world. Many low- and middle-income countries are now reporting growing numbers of cases and imposing rigorous lockdown regulations in response, which impact all aspects of the economy. How will COVID-19 affect food-supply chains (FSCs) in Pakistan?
The evidence suggests that the impacts will be felt widely, but unevenly. Farm operations may be spared the worst, while small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in urban areas will face significant problems. Government will have to develop policies to respond to these varied impacts to avoid supply chain disruptions, higher food prices, and severe economic fallout for millions of employees.
Clearly, the segments of FSCs in the developing country like Pakistan is most vulnerable to COVID-19, impacts are the midstream and downstream segments. This will present significant challenges for the people working in them and likely lead to broader economic and operational changes going forward.
In the short term, millions of these businesses will face lower foot traffic, lower incomes, and substantial unemployment.
In the medium term, COVID-19 impacts on these segments may be like past episodes of Earthquake 2005, which induced rapid concentration, leading to the rise of large processing firms and supermarkets.
How should governments respond to minimize supply chain disruptions and fallout from lockdowns and other restrictions? The general strategy must be two-pronged: Implement robust public health measures to slow the spread of disease; and address food security impacts, particularly the potentially enormous effects on income and employment.
This strategy presents significant challenges for Pakistan. Addressing the FSC issues will require three complementary policy paths: In the short run, implement new, broad safety nets for SMEs and workers in the midstream and downstream segments of FSCs; for example, governments could use cash-for-work schemes to employ workers to distribute emergency food rations, upgrade sanitation in wholesale markets and wet markets, and maintain essential operations in their own enterprises so that the latter are there when the crisis passes. In the short and medium term, monitor and regulate wholesale markets, retail wet markets and processing clusters more strictly, and redesign their sites for improved health practices. Finally, make long-term investments to help SMEs change hygiene practices and better site design that will help them remain competitive.