A recently released study conducted by a team of Yale university academics in the field of economics presents a grim picture of the realities surrounding labour mobility, wages, remittance, and food security. The study conducted through a collection of large sample data across 90 villages in Kailali and Kanchanpur undoubtedly provides much needed empirical evidence related to the effect of COVID-19 on the rural poor. The relative decrease in the total hours spent in income-generating work for prime-age workers, the onslaught of food insecurity well before the arrival of lean season, the decrease in receipt of remittance all substantiate claims made with regards to poverty levels post COVID-19.
What is equally important to consider is the implications that follow for agricultural productivity in the future. The researchers note that investments that are being held back now in fertilizers owing to decreased wages and/or remittances can have spill-over effects in other sectors as well. While the question of food security has already been raised numerous times, a call for proper and timely implementation of an adequate response must also be equally stressed.
Crucial to the issue at hand is the timely implementation of Work for Food programme that is to be initiated come the next fiscal year. In essence, the programme aims at solving two very important and linked problems of the rural poor i.e. food security and wages. The question however is whether the programme itself will be operated in time and in as smooth and efficient a manner as is required. Past precedents regarding the operation of any programme as set out in the annual budget show lackluster performance on part of the government agency. More often than not, government programmes begin in the latter half of the fiscal year, as such, it would be reasonable to remain skeptical of the operation of the much-needed programme. In any case, what follows from the recent research is that, at this critical juncture, the under-spending of the budget/ bundling of the expenditure on the latter half of the fiscal year will have dire consequences for agricultural productivity and food security. The implications that follow thus from the research is simple, in order to avoid any additional blow to the aforementioned areas than has already been dealt by the imposition of lockdown measures, programmes pertaining to Work for Food Programme and agriculture sector set-out in the annual budget must start out at the earliest, unlike previous fiscal years.