The implications of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) among vulnerable farming communities in central and northern Rakhine State, Myanmar are distressing enough without adding the impacts of the protracted conflict, which have severely disrupted agricultural production, reduced access to food due to insecurity, and have resulted in substantial displacement. These factors have led to an increase in poverty levels.
Communities are particularly at risk, as they continue to live in an environment with ongoing hostilities. Further, disruptions to supply chains due to COVID-19 restrictions and a decrease in access to items of first necessity could result in increased competition over limited resources. Movement restrictions implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 could derail agricultural input supply chains, reduce informal daily labourers’ access to farmland (particularly for vulnerable people who have weak resilience, which will impact both their wages and the area of land cultivated), and constrain transport of goods to processing facilities and/or markets, noted Reda Lebtahi, Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
According to a United Nations policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on Southeast Asia, the pandemic has inflicted real suffering, with a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable. The brief also highlighted prevailing inequalities, concerns over governance, and the unsustainability of the current develop¬ment pathway.
Under its flagship three-year project funded by the European Union, FAO is working to increase the resilience of livelihoods to natural hazards and conflicts in Rakhine State. The aim of project is to restore and protect the agricultural livelihoods of vulnerable communities in Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships. To address the immediate needs of vulnerable farmers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, FAO has reprogrammed project activities, including the provision of cash grants and agricultural inputs.
Cash grants: FAO has concluded its first round of cash transfers in Buthidaung, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships in Rakhine State. This FAO Emergency project has reorganized its programming to ensure continued delivery of assistance where there are already high levels of need, while also meeting new needs emerging from the effects of COVID-19. The provision of cash grants aims to address communities’ immediate food needs and essential household expenses, which have increased as a result of the surge in armed conflict and impact of COVID-19, Reda Lebtahi stressed. Cash assistance totalling USD 619 341 was provided to about 5 892 vulnerable farming families in northern and central Rakhine State.
Agricultural inputs: According to the findings of FAO’s Resilience Index Measurement and Analysis in Rakhine State, which is based on twelve-month recall, interviewed households have been affected mainly by economic shocks, such as high food prices (45 percent) and high costs of agricultural inputs (31). Consequently, during these uncertain times, FAO has provided farmers with agriculture inputs to enhance the food security, nutrition and resilience of communities. FAO has provided 5 096 bags of fertilizer to vulnerable farmers has complemented other activities, including the provision of rice seeds, cash grants, farming tools, a basic nutrition guide and training on good farming practices.
Ensuring safety in the context of COIVD-19: Ensuring the safety of staff and families receiving assistance is a priority for FAO, especially as COVID-19 remains a threat. COVID-19 prevention measures have been streamlined into operations, as they are vital to protect staff and community members. The addition of distribution sites, the installation of handwashing points, and temperature checks for families are examples of measures that are critical and instil confidence. Moreover, FAO has provided COVID-19 informational materials to communities in 115 villages and provided soap and masks to 5 892 vulnerable farmers at distribution sites.
Source : Fao