Measures proposed to address food security vulnerabilities exposed by COVID-19 in SE Asia hinh anh 1A paddy in Southeast Asia (Photo: VNA)

Hanoi (VNA) – A core element of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), food security, now looms as a priority for Southeast Asia, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, according to an article published on The Diplomat online news magazine.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread disruption in Southeast Asia, in terms of the number of deaths, the livelihoods lost, and the major interruptions to supply chains, it stated.

Moreover, the recent rise in inflation, which has resulted in higher food prices, has severely eroded the purchasing power of households. This has raised questions about the region’s food security, which up until recently was primarily the domain of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) community, regional organisations, the United Nations, and individual nations.

Experts stressed that COVID-19 stopped any progress made in addressing key food security challenges, like climate change and crop productivity, and exposed previously unknown vulnerabilities, while placing a serious strain on food supply chains.

For Southeast Asian countries, which have always been seen as food insecure, and are also highly vulnerable to climate change, there are a number of actions that must be addressed immediately.

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), domestic food production in Indonesia has consistently failed to keep up with a growing population, yet the pandemic reduced vital food imports. COVID-19 has similarly disrupted domestic production and distribution, resulting in deficits in key staples such as rice, eggs, and sugar.

In Thailand, a drought in 2020 lowered sugar yields, which caused production to fall dramatically, while the onset of COVID-19 reduced demand. The result was a 19 percent decline in Thai sugar exports in 2020.

Refined sugar is shipped in containers. But COVID-19 created logistics concerns over warehousing, port congestion, and increased freight costs. These challenges are not limited to Thailand but are replicated throughout the region, the writing underlined.

In addressing disruptions to food supplies beyond the pandemic, facilitating the free flow of goods is vital, as is ensuring an adequate labour supply and better management of border controls.

Currently, sustainable agricultural production in Southeast Asia is dependent on a stable supply of migrant labour.

Governments in the region need to prioritise migrant farm labourers in order to prevent food insecurity. During the pandemic, the supply of migrant workers was compromised as countries tightened border controls.

Addressing marginalisation could protect workers trapped by future border restrictions or conflict-related humanitarian crises./.