Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is the first pandemic in human history where technology and social media are being used on a massive scale to keep people safe, productive and connected while being physically apart. At the same time, technology helps know the sufferings of people in remote areas.

A quick uploading of photo or a video on social media platforms tells the story instantly, if those are not fake. Now more than ever, technology must ensure that everyone can access the information they need.

The government-declared shutdown to contain transmission of coronavirus disrupted the supply chain to some extent and brought economic activities to a grinding halt, hitting the low-income group and small-scale farmers the hardest.

The unprecedented situation forced farmers in many places to sell their products at nominal prices - and some even left their vegetables to rot in the field. Locals keep sharing those stories through Facebook platform.

Moved by their plight, a group of young volunteers in Chattogram started purchasing vegetables, seasonal fruits and milk at higher prices directly from these farmers to encourage them to increase output - something the country urgently needs as coronavirus will cause food shortage and could lead to a global famine.

The volunteers said they worked out a plan quickly after the government declared general holidays and started purchasing those vegetables, fruits and milk at prices the farmers get in normal situation and are supplying those door to door across Chattogram city and the surrounding areas without making any profit.

"We learned that some farmers are selling their vegetables at Tk 3-5 per kg or letting vegetables rot in the field after failing to sell them due to disruption caused by coronavirus. We wanted to do something for them," Dev Kusum Barua, one of the persons involved in the process, told Dhaka Courier over phone.

Dev and several dozen of his friends got united under a tag name "Club96".

"My friend Murad, Rizvi, Noman and others initially came forward to discuss how farmers can get fair prices for their vegetables, how they can be encouraged to go for further production and how to help consumers in the city who are unable to go out regularly for purchasing fresh vegetables," he said.

Talking to Dhaka Courier, IT expert and young political activist Dr Faisal Kamal Chowdhury said marginal farmers are among the worst affected people due to the current situation as the transportation system came to a halt to stop the spread of coronavirus.

"Farmers are at risk of counting huge loss as their products can hardly go to wider market. Vegetables and other agriculture products are getting damaged in some cases. This initiative by the young people is helping farmers sell their products and allowing consumers to them at their homes," he said.

Faisal, also a Member Secretary of Muktijuddho Academy Trust, Chattogram, said he is one the consumers of vegetables delivered by this group of young people. "The vegetables are very fresh and good in quality."

He hopes that it will encourage young people in other parts of the country to help farmers survive during this crisis moment. "It's encouraging to see many are joining hands in different parts of the country. This needs to continue."

Syed M Tanvir, Director of Pacific Jeans Group and Director of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industries (CCCI) said such initiative is very effective considering the current situation. "I hope this will be replicated in other parts of the country."

He emphasised the importance of early engagement of young people in planning and preparedness efforts to help affected people in a meaningful way. "I feel proud to be a member of Club 96."

Responding to a question, Noman Russel, one of the team members, said the farmers used to get not more than Tk 20 for per kg vegetable in the wholesale market. "We're buying at Tk 33 per kg from the farmers, which is encouraging for them," he said.

Noman said residents of the city are being told to stay indoors. "They're getting fresh vegetables delivered to their doorsteps maintaining hygiene strictly," he said, hoping that young people in other parts of the country will also come forward to help marginal farmers.

The organisers say they are getting huge feedback on their Facebook page and many came forward with their personal vehicles apart from pick up vans for transportation.

Bangladesh Krishak Sangram Samity President Hafizur Rahman said the base of the country's economy is agriculture and sought necessary steps to keep farmers unhurt during this crisis.

He said the government needs to ensure fair prices of onion, vegetables, seasonal fruits and other agricultural products.

Govt Initiatives For Farmers

On April 12, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a new stimulus package of Tk 5,000 crore to give financial assistance to small and medium farmers and help them face the coronavirus fallout.

Bangladesh Bank will formulate a new refinancing scheme of Tk 5,000 crore to pump running capital into the agricultural sector.

"We'll create this Tk 5,000 crore stimulus package only for the agricultural sector. We'll disburse money from this fund among farmers at only 5 percent interest," she said.

Welcoming the government's announcement, Executive Director of South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem) Dr Selim Raihan recommended interest-free loans.

As the domestic supply chain of agricultural materials collapsed, the current crisis in the sector cannot be resolved by just giving loans to farmers, Selim said, adding that it is necessary to take measures on how to restore the supply chain at the field level in compliance with the health regulations.

"The agriculture, health, road transport and home ministries must work together with the local administration and businessmen to this end," he said.

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