The new coronavirus pandemic in South Asia has severely affected livelihoods of over 1.7 billion people, according to the Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) 2020.
It said the disruptions to supply chains, lack of access to health and nutrition services, and overwhelmed social protection led to rising food and nutrition insecurity in the South Asian region.
It was revealed at a virtual launching of some highlights of GFPR 2020 at New Delhi in India, organised jointly by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) South Asia, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences (TAAS).
IFPRI will publish the full report today (Tuesday) addressing many of the long-standing issues underpining food insecurity and poverty in light of the COVID-19's impacts on our food systems, according to a IFPRI release.
IFPRI's GFPR 2020 highlights the central role that inclusive food systems play in meeting global goals to end poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, and offers recommendations for making food systems more inclusive for four marginalized groups - smallholders, women, youth, and conflict-affected people.
The report also provides analysis on transforming national food system in several countries like Bangladesh and Ethiopia, and advice on development of food system in different regions worldwide.
"Food systems provide opportunities to improve food and nutrition security, generate income, and drive inclusive economic growth, but even in prosperous times too many people are excluded from fully participating in them and securing these benefits," said Johan Swinnen, director general of IFPRI.
"In times of crisis like today, inclusion is an even greater imperative for protecting the most vulnerable, " said Swinnen.
However, the report said South Asia's steady progress has reshaped the region's diverse food systems over the past decade.
This regional transformation has been marked by strong economic growth, rising real wages, and the expansion of nonagricultural sectors.
In recent years in South Asia the growth rate of high-value foods has been greater than that of cereals.
The increase in income and greater diet diversity has also led to growth of the food processing sector.
Yet post-harvest losses continue to be high in South and Southeast Asia compared to other regions, it said.
"South Asian economies are transforming. Real wages are rising, shares of agriculture in GDP are declining, and non-farm employment in much of the region has surpassed that of farm employment. These structural changes will bring about changes in food system with new challenges to ensure that food system transformation is efficient, inclusive, and sustainable," said Shahidur Rashid, director South Asia, IFPRI.
The report recommends three key policy levers which will be critical in making the food system transformation inclusive and sustainable: (1) reforming agricultural input subsidies and price supports; (2) improving the targeting of social protection programs; and (3) building effective institutions for governing the emerging food system.
Reforming some of the age-old programmes on agricultural subsidy and price policies could free up public funds, to invest in fostering more inclusive, equitable, and gender- and nutrition-sensitive food systems, said GFPR highlights.
In South Asia, social safety net programs can be effective platforms for making food systems inclusive, it said.
"IFPRI-WFP's Transfer Modality Research Initiative in Bangladesh found that providing young mothers cash transfers combined with nutrition behavioral change reduced child stunting by three-times than the national average" said Akhter Ahmed, senior research fellow and country representative of IFPRI-Bangladesh.
This is substantial evidence on the potential of social transfers to enhance nutrition, he said.