Modernisation of supply chain and adoption of new technologies, including digital commerce and farm mechanisation, are vital for ensuring food safety and smooth distribution during different adverse situations like pandemic, speakers said at a webinar on Wednesday.
They also said establishing country compliance, creating awareness among growers, reducing wastage, and developing storage facilities were also important in this regard.
They made the comments at a webinar on 'Ensuring food safety and supply chain in a pandemic', organised by Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI).
Agriculture Minister Dr Muhammad Abdur Razzaque joined the virtual event as the chief guest, while Secretary to the food ministry Dr Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum was present as a special guest.
DCCI President Rizwan Rahman chaired the webinar and Professor Dr M Burhan Uddin of the Bangladesh Agricultural University presented a keynote paper at the event.
Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque said the government was trying to upgrade and reform the age-old policies regarding agriculture, food safety and its supply chain.
"We are now self-sufficient in all food commodities. We are also committed to giving people nutritious food and safe food…we are also prioritising commercialisation and modernisation," said the minister.
However, there is a shortage of manpower, both in terms of skills and number, said the minister, identifying the challenges to ensure food safety.
Distribution of perishable items has emerged as a big challenge, especially in the pandemic, the minister said.
In this regard, he mentioned that the mango producers did not get an expected price this year though production was pretty good.
"We need an international-standard food processing industry to compete with the global market," said the minister.
He also underscored the importance of coordination between the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) and the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA).
Speaking on the occasion, Food Secretary Mosammat Nazmanara Khanum said initiatives under the public-private partnership (PPP) could be useful for ensuring safe food in the country.
"We have a plan to train and create a skilled workforce," she said.
Highlighting on the motivation of all concerned in the food value chain, she said there were moves to resolve the barriers gradually.
She also urged the private sector entities to approach the government so that the government could intervene, where needed.
DCCI President Rizwan Rahman said both the domestic and global economy was facing challenges due to the pandemic.
Though the supply of food products was out of the purview of the movement restrictions, it was somewhat disrupted due to the obstacles in global trade, he said. "The pandemic situation across the world hampered food safety and supply chain activities, resulting in a food inflation of 5.45 per cent in June," he said.
On the one hand, farmers couldn't send their produce to the desired market, on the other hand consumers in some regions couldn't avail the produce in the absence of a proper supply chain, he mentioned.
He also laid emphasis on adopting the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), alongside giving importance to safety-net, health-hygiene, e-commerce, so that the country could create a friendly ecosystem to face the challenges of any pandemic or disaster.
"We might establish a pro-people eco-system using e-commerce by restructuring the current supply chain in an effort to minimise the impact of epidemic or other calamities," said Mr Rahman.
Speaking at the virtual event, Director General of BSTI Dr Md Nazrul Anwar said the BSTI was working to create awareness among consumers about the hazard of counterfeiting and ill practices in manufacturing and distribution.
The BSTI has developed software with a QR code facility which will be effective in the next three months, in a bid to check duplicating the BSTI logo, he told the webinar.
Foodpanda Bangladesh Managing Director Ambareen Reza said around 5,000 restaurants were closed in the last one year due to a lack of efficient supply chain system.
She suggested replicating the RMG supply chain success model in the country's food value chain system.
Owing to the unavailability of an efficient supply chain system in the country, multinational brands like McDonalds or Subway do not want to start operations in Bangladesh, she added.
Chairman of Kernal Foundation Dr Md Saleh Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bengal Meat AFM Asif, and DCCI Senior Vice President N K A Mobin, among others, spoke at the virtual event.