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Possible actions in dealing with the food crisis during global pandemic (Covid-19) in the CHT

Parban Chakma

Last updated Aug 27th, 2020 icon 1785

food scarcity in cht
বান্দরবানের লামা উপজেলার দুর্গম কাপ্রু পাড়ায় বুনো আলু খেয়ে দিন পার করছে ম্রো পরিবার। ছবি: সঞ্জয় কুমার বড়ুয়া

The above pictures were published in a prominent newspaper of Bangladesh ‘The Daily Star’ on 7 April 2020.

Not just Lama Upazila, the pictures also indicate the existence of food crisis in various rural areas i.e. Ruma, Thanchi, and Rowangchhari of Bandarban hill district, Sajek in Rangamati hill district and many more remote villages in Khagrachhari hill district.

Jum cultivation in the hills has stopped, disrupting the process of food production and sales of the produced goods due to the Covid-19 lockdown. The indigenous jum cultivators are struggling with the food crisis intensifying in the current situation.

Global Food Situation

The United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in a report said, there is a fear of famine as a result of disturbance/collapse in the global food chain. About three crore people are feared to die in the famine.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN in a report mentioned that the poor and the marginalized people will be affected the most by the pandemic. The supply of food to be a greater issue than a shortage of food behind the food crisis.

About three crore people are feared to die in the famine. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN in a report mentioned that the poor and the marginalized people will be affected the most by the pandemic.

The economy in the Chittagong Hill Tracts being weak, the poor are suffering to get food supplies. In times of struggle like these, disasters cannot be dealt with by relief activities. Rather, the focus should be on how the food crisis can be dealt with during and after the disasters through integrated measures.

Ongoing Relief Campaigns in CHT:

Coronavirus is affecting lives. Of all, it is affecting the poor and the marginalized groups of people the most. Various organizations and professionals are coming forward to help them.

Under the slogan- “Let there be food for all in the hills during Corona”, ‘Sobuj Kham Foundation’ is running relief distribution activities in the three hill districts. Promi Khisa, coordinator If the relief activity, Sobuj Kham Foundation, and a sophomore student of the University of Dhaka informs, “We have stood by the poor by providing daily necessities to about 160 families till now. Our volunteers are delivering food items to many remote areas of the hills.

Jumma entrepreneurs ‘Pahari Uddyokta Haat’ and JUVBDA (Jumma Voluntary Blood Donors Association) are providing emergency food supplies to jum cultivators and areas affected by the food crisis through a joint venture ‘Emergency Reserve Relief Fund’, said its spokesperson, Avenue Chakma.

Young Jumma entrepreneurs organization ‘Pahari Uddyokta Haat’ and JUVBDA (Jumma Voluntary Blood Donors Association) are providing emergency food supplies to jum cultivators and areas affected by food crisis through a joint venture ‘Emergency Reserve Relief Fund’, said its spokesperson, Avenue Chakma. He further adds, ‘Emergency Reserve Relief Fund’ is working with two objectives:

  • Coordinating with donors (who are distributing relief) to transfer the money raised, in areas that are most urgently needed
  • Distributing agricultural materials (as per needs) in order to avert the chronic food crisis in the CHT. All ancillary help including logistic support and advice will be provided free of charge.

A group of indigenous youths is carrying out humanitarian aid activities through an organization ‘Bonophuler Jonnyo Jumma Taryunner Valobasha’.

Meanwhile, relief is being provided through various personal and organizational initiatives including the Association of Buddhist Monks, ‘CHT Covid-19 Emergency Aid Committee (CCEAC) formed by Dhaka-based indigenous peoples, Hill tracts  Humanitarian Foundation, Her Excellency Rani Yan Yan of Chakma Circle, Bomang Circle, and Mong Circle.

Although food shortages can be temporarily mitigated through relief assistance, the need for policies and planning strategies through expert panels to address chronic crises is becoming increasingly urgent.

Expert Opinions on Solving Food Crisis

Mr. Paban Kumar Chakma, Honorary Deputy Director(DD), Department of Agricultural Extension in Rangamati District and former consultant at Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said, “The role of jum cultivators is the most crucial part in resolving food crisis.

Due to the ongoing lockdown, the staff of the Department of Agriculture is unable to reach the farmers and there is fear that suitable lands for jum will remain uncultivated.

The jum farmers are unable to sow seeds because of the lockdown which is sown in the months of April-May. If actions are not taken soon, food production will be disrupted and give rise to another crisis.”

The jum farmers are unable to sow seeds because of the lockdown which is sown in the months of April-May. If actions are not taken soon, food production will be disrupted and give rise to another crisis.

He shared his opinions in order to deal with food security and crisis in remote areas of the hills:

  1. Along with jum crops, jum potatoes, jum (hilly) taros, jum pumpkins, and foods that can be stored for the long term should be planted more.
  2. Banana yield in the hills is high, many times they have to be sold at low prices. Boil the bananas, remove the banana peel, dry well in the sun and store. If there is a lack of rice, the dried banana powder can be used as an alternative.
  3. The season for bamboo shoots is approaching which can be dried and preserved.
  4. Planting of Cassava around the jum, which can be another alternative to rice.
  5. Sow corn, barley, foxtail millets, and store them when ripe.
  6. Not spraying herbicides on the hilly slopes, as this may harm the small fish, shrimps, crabs, and the reproductions of these aquatic species in the streams, canals, and other water bodies.
  7. Preserve naturally grown vegetables near the streams/canals, for example, Tara (hilly vegetables), spinach.

Mr.Shovon Chakma, the former National Technical Adviser at FAO (UN), informed, “The whole world has to deal with food crisis now. Nutrition should be emphasized as well as food. Failure to ensure nutritious food will increase the risk of health breakdown.”

Ph.D. researcher Shovon Chakma at The University of Queensland, Australia, and former National Technical Adviser of FAO, informed, “The whole world has to deal with food crisis now.

Nutrition should be emphasized as well as food. Failure to ensure nutritious food will increase the risk of health breakdown.”

He added, during his research, he noticed, “a large part of the CHT is deprived of meat consumption for various reasons.” He called upon the CHT people to take strong steps to ensure nutrition by encouraging the poor to keep livestock while continuing the relief activities.

He opined that jum corn, cassava (one kind of potato), banana powder, and sweet pumpkin could be ideal alternatives to reduce dependency on rice. The mentioned foods are becoming popular as an alternative to rice in East Asian countries including Thailand, Cambodia, Laos.

Past statistics show that there is still food shortage in Thanchi, Ruma, Lama, Keokradong, Roangchhari, Naikhyangchhari, Patharghata, Magban, Jurachhari, Thegakul, Sajek, Barkal, Dudhukchhara, Karalyachhari, Baghaichhari, Naraichhari, etc.

The main challenge now is to solve the chronic food crisis. Ensuring food security by identifying remote areas is now an urgent step. It is time to introduce all kinds of agricultural services to the jum cultivators for cultivation while continuing relief programs in the most poverty-stricken areas of the three hill districts.

Past statistics show that there is still food shortage in Thanchi, Ruma, Lama, Keokradong, Roangchhari, Naikhyangchhari, Patharghata, Magban, Jurachhari, Thegakul, Sajek, Barkal, Dudhukchhara, Karalyachhari, Baghaichhari, etc.

Short-term Solutions:

  1. Bringing all organizations together on a single platform to coordinate relief efforts;
  2. Delivering daily necessities to remote areas;
  3. To ensure the supply of food and nutrition to the people of all poor communities;
  4. To register the number of poor people with the area head (Karbari).

In dealing with or resolving the crisis, the responsibility lies not only on one person but also on the people of all walks of life.

Sustainable & Long-term Crisis Resolutions:

  1. Establishment of cold storages at district and some Upazila level where produced food can be preserved;
  2. Emphasizing on cultivation corn, cassava (শিমুল আলু), pumpkin, besides rice;
  3. Cultivation on unutilized lands of hills;
  4. Encouraging animal husbandry in their respective homes to meet the demands of meat consumption;
  5. To provide services to farmers through Integrated Agriculture and Livestock Cell;
  6. Consolidation of the local markets;
  7. Above all, to strengthen the structure of food production, storage, and distribution. In dealing with or resolving the crisis, the responsibility lies not only on one person but on the people of all walks of life.

In conclusion, the solution to the food crisis of the indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is in their own hands. From the policy-making stage to the implementation, the necessary steps and strategies can overcome the food crisis.

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Parban Chakma

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Pursuing his undergraduate degree in Law at University Of Dhaka.

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