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Policy Responses to COVID-19: How countries are helping farmers thrive amid pandemic

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It is undeniable that the COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in a looming crisis for the global economies. One of the most serious impacts is likely to be on food security. It is feared that the continuing lockdowns, affecting labour and input availability, will seriously disrupt food supplies. The consequent fall in rural incomes is expected to impact food demand and also the overall economic growth badly.

As the Coronavirus crisis intensifies, disruptions in domestic food supply chains are leading to food security risks in many countries. Although the long-term impact of Coronavirus is yet to be revealed, evidence shows that in regions already hit by acute hunger, people are increasingly struggling to have access to food as prices of food products rise and incomes fall.

On the other hand, growers are also facing the shortage of agricultural inputs like fertilizer and pesticides thanks to global trade disturbances. Moreover, labour shortages due to movement restrictions and social distancing norms are starting to impact producers, processors, traders and logistics companies in food supply chains.

Ensuring farmers have access to inputs and labour is a common area of concern across countries as COVID-19’s impact on the farming sector will have far-reaching effects beyond food-security, across industries, and on the global economy as a whole.

Scroll on to read how the governments around the world are responding to the challenges:

USA

The US recently announced the CFAP (Coronavirus Food Assistance Program), which will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to America’s farmers and ranchers.

The total amount of assistance includes $9.5 billion appropriated by the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) & nearly $6.5 billion from the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act.

The assistance program would provide direct support based on actual losses where prices and market supply chains have been affected. Moreover, for the 2020 marketing year, this scheme would also help the producers with additional costs due to lost demand and short-term oversupply caused by the outbreak of COVID-19.

Jamaica

To date, more than USD 6.8 million dollars have been allocated to the agriculture
industry to stem the tide of losses that the sector is currently experiencing.

The funds allocated are intended to be used to establish a “Buy-Back Program”, under which the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries purchases the output from the farmers at the market price and sells them to the consumers at a marginally lower price.

The goal of this program is to procure produce from growers who no longer have access to markets. Aimed at both farmers and fisheries, a part of the financial assistance is also geared towards identifying buyers or distributors who operate cold storage facilities.

India

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In an attempt to boost the flow of credit to the agriculture sector, the central government has decided to bring more farmers under the ambit of the Kisan Credit Card (KCC) scheme.

Rs 10,000 crore fund for MFS (Micro Food Scheme) will be executed with a cluster-based approach, which will benefit 2 lakh Micro Food Enterprises. Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana was also announced for the development of marine and inland fisheries.

The Indian government has also earmarked Rs. 1 lakh crore towards FPOs (farmers producers organisations), ag-startups to strengthen farm gate infrastructure.

India also approved:

• The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020
• The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020

in order to empower farmers to engage with processors, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers and exporters.

Also, the 65-years-old Essential Commodities Act has been amended to enable better price realisation for farmers.

Pakistan

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In May, Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet (ECC) approved a Rs 56.6 billion agriculture relief package for farmers in order to provide them subsidy on:
– Fertilizers
– Cotton seeds
– Pesticides

The package has been prepared by Pakistan’s Ministry of National Food Security and Research.

It is worth mentioning that the agriculture sector contributes 18.5 per cent to Pakistan’s GDP and provides over 38 per cent employment to the national labour force.

European Union

The EU has also given approval to several emergency measures in order to help growers and fishermen affected by the ongoing pandemic. To reduce disruptions to food supply chains, the political and economic union has also taken urgent measures to support food producers.

During the plenary session in April, Members of the European Parliament approved financial assistance for hard-hit fishing communities and aquaculture farmers as they are facing several challenges, including logistical difficulties in ports, increased freight prices for shipping fish products, trade restrictions with non-EU countries, concerns over crew safety and limited possibilities for crew rotation due to quarantine.

Brazil

In May, the supreme body of the Brazilian National Financial System – National Monetary Council – approved a series of measures to make rural credit more flexible, ranging from extending deadlines for contracting credit to measures to guarantee social distance.

As a result, rural producers/growers would now be able to access the credit line until June 30, 2021, to finance investments in works, purchases of machinery and equipment.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh Bank has created several refinancing schemes amounting to a total of Tk 380 billion and a 360-day tenor special repo facility to support exporters, farmers and to facilitate the implementation of the government stimulus packages.

To further support farmers, the central bank of Bangladesh also announced an agriculture subsidy program that will take effect for 15 months until mid-2021.

In addition, the bank has taken measures to:
– Delay non-performing loan classification
– Waive credit card fees and interests
– Suspend loan interest payments
– Extend tenures of trade instruments
– Ensure access to financial services

Fiji

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The Reserve Bank of Fiji announced to expand the SME Credit Guarantee Scheme to assist small entities. Also, it raised its Import Substitution and Export Finance Facility by FJ$100 million in order to provide credit to exporters, large scale commercial agricultural farmers, public transportation and renewable energy businesses at concessional rates.

The Gambia

In mid-March, the small West Africa country prepared a US$9 million COVID-19 action plan. It launched a GMD 800 million (US$15.8 million) nation-wide food distribution program to benefit 84 per cent of the households. Moreover, the government also announced to distribute 2000 tons of fertilizer to meet the needs of farmers.

South Africa

The government is assisting companies and workers facing distress through the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and special programs from the Industrial Development Corporation.

Funds are made available by the South African government to assist SMEs under stress, mainly in the tourism and hospitality sectors, and small-scale farmers operating in the poultry, livestock, and vegetable sectors.

Also, the numbers of food parcels for distribution was increased.

Thailand

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In response to Coronavirus pandemic, Cabinet approved a fiscal package amounting to at least 9.6 per cent of GDP or THB 1.5 trillion including health-related spending, assistance for workers, farmers, and entrepreneurs affected by COVID-19 (includes THB 5,000 per month per person for three months to about 14 million non-farm workers outside the social security system and 10 million farmers).

Nigeria

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) introduced additional measures including reducing interest rates on all applicable CBN interventions from 9 to 5 per cent, introducing a one-year moratorium on CBN intervention facilities, creating an N50 billion ($139 million) targeted credit facility.

In addition, the CBN announced another N1 trillion support to the agriculture sector as food shortages loom.

Editorial Desk at Agrigate.Global

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