When food trucks stop rolling: COVID-19's Impact on Food Supply in India

While most of us are worried about staying safe, the economy and our jobs outside, there's a more significant threat looming over the horizon, and it concerns an essential need - food and its continued supply.

Where did our meals go?

We had moved into the lockdown with a heavy Rabi crop near harvest. A month down the line, there are wide-scale crop losses, which are leaving farms and markets short of staple crops. Locked domestic borders and lack of cross-national trade have cut down on the availability of food in the markets too.

These steps are impacting all food supplies - meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables as well as grain supplies. And the reason? The logistical breakdown in bringing food from the fields to the plate.  

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned of a possible spiral in global food prices too, fuelled by countries which rely on imports of staple foods.

Fears of empty shelves

And this is just the side of the story before the inevitable lifting of the nation-wide lockdown. The after story, if not appropriately managed, could be even worse. In a hurry to stock up, people who can afford it would rush to clean shelves of remaining food supplies, even as the system falters in restocking these shelves.

For the broader unorganised sector, there would be a rush to do jobs and get paid, if only to bring the next meal to their plates.

Working for food, without due precautions

Workers who flock for food and money in post-lockdown India would be going to spaces which do not have full safety measures. These would include poor indoor air quality (IAQ) and relative humidity – factors which enhance human and surface transmission of the coronavirus.

Ignoring or poorly managing humidity indoors can have implications, especially if a COVID-19 positive person comes in contact with others in closed or air-conditioned rooms. Colder environments, especially in the upcoming summers, would also enhance the number of days the contamination would stay alive on surfaces.

Going back to the food supply chain, this would also impact large warehouses, mandis and refrigeration centres for food supplies.

Apart from sanitisation, these centres need proper checks to not only keep the centre safe, but prevent the strands of infection from moving to these food supplies or others down the trail.

Need of the hour

As someone who's been monitoring the COVID-19 crisis since December, I've seen how not taking steps against the pandemic at the right time caused the crisis.  

I implore the government also to advocate food consumption patterns which would build immunity, as that's the only relevant protection and prevention tool for COVID-19. Freshly cooked home foods, instead of frozen items, consumed warm, alongside warm beverages to avoid flu-like conditions.

We would also need to stop flocking to restaurants, malls and dial-in delivery centres for food, as they may bring a scale of surface transmission to our homes. Many good food chains are in centralised ventilated zones, which would see big footfalls after the lockdown, increasing risks of a spreading coronavirus infection. 

So, at this time, it's prudent to stay vigilant and calm, apart from keeping an eye out for a developing food crisis. Avoid panic buying and hoarding to ensure that it does not turn into a food calamity down the line.

(Edited by Apoorva Puranik)

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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