Impact of COVID-19 on Food Consumption Changes of Selected Households in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar

Impact of COVID-19 on Food Consumption Changes of Selected Households in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar

Published: 2023.02.20
Accepted: 2023.02.20
55
Research Fellow
Department of Agricultural Economics, Yezin Agricultural University, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar
Professor
Department of Agricultural Economics Yezin Agricultural University, Myanmar
Demonstrator
Department of Agricultural Economics, Myanmar
Demonstrator
Department of Agricultural Economics, Myanmar
Demonstrators Department of Agricultural Economics, Yezin Agricultural University, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar
Assistant Lecturer
Yezin Agricultural University, Myanmar
Assistant Lecturer
Department of Agricultural Economics, Yezin Agricultural University

ABSTRACT

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected human health and well-being all over the world. Like all other developing countries, Myanmar faces severe economic impacts that become critical to the livelihoods of the people. The study was done to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on households’ income and food system changes. A total of 140 respondents were from Nay Pyi Taw region and the survey took place in October 2021. The incomes of 47.86 % of the respondents were found to have reduced and more than 60 % of the respondents were aware of the food consumption changes at their households. Among the respondents’ food consumption, there were higher intakes of eggs (83.57 %), vegetables (79.29 %), fruits (60 %), chicken (59.29 %), rice (58.57 %), purified water (57.04 %) and lower intakes of seafood (54.41 %), pork (48.42 %), beverages (43.88 %), mutton (42.11 %) and edible oil (40.71 %) compared to their usual consumption amounts. Between the respondent groups who have stable income and those who have reduced income during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a significant difference in the reduction and equal consumption of certain food items. Income reduced group decreased seafood consumption the most while pork was the top decreased food among the stable income group. The health concerns contributed to the changes of 62.8 % of egg consumption, 58.62 % of rice and 58.14 % of purified water intakes. Price contributed more than 50 % of seafood and mutton consumption changes. Stress, availability, and social distancing also contributed to consumption changes. The study concluded that COVID-19 have helped the respondents shift toward a healthier and affordable food consumption trend which is desirable to sustain in the long run.

Keywords: COVID-19 Impacts, Food Consumption, Income, Health

INTRODUCTION

Around the world, human health and well-being are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020 and 2021, especially in terms of producing and ensuring access to healthy foods for households due to the pandemic’s impact which is still ongoing to date. The consumption pattern and food system that has been transformed daily sustenance to all households are under threat of COVID-19 in Myanmar. The earlier understanding of sustainable consumption has had to be revisited now that the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified psychological issues such as stress, fear, depression, and even before the COVID-19, household food system has been affected by household income, availability, accessibility, and affordability in Myanmar. According to the FAO report, the COVID-19 pandemic could push nearly 820 million people in the world into chronic hunger by the end of 2020. Moreover, three billion people did not have access to healthy diets and suffered from other forms of malnutrition (MOI 2021).

The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed global agri-food systems and pushed millions of people into extreme poverty (Laborde et al., 2020). The responsible strategy concerns not only for food supplies but also for the incomes and livelihoods that became critical in most developing countries. The supply side of the food sector is operating within the limitations on imports, exports, and transportation restrictions, as well as through exchange rate shocks, reduced access to credit, and higher energy costs (Swinnen and McDermott 2020; Laborde et al., 2020). The supply side of agri-food system studies through modeling exercises of COVID-19 impact have been conducted. However, empirical assessments are still limited (MAPSA, 2021). On the other hand of the demand side, reduction of incomes may affect the reduction of food purchasing power, transforming the consumption pattern, changing the health concerns, household food security and the nutrition level.  Higher food price and lower household incomes could lead to the transformation of food demand. The study of IFPRI Myanmar, Working Paper 04 found that about 40 % of households were eating cheaper food, reducing food expenditures and the quantity of food in June, 2020. Some households with reduction in food in Yangon and in the rural Dry Zone had sufficiently varied diets in June 2020. The study pointed out that the impact of COVID-19 would endanger the long-term growth and development of vulnerable young children. They also lend support towards the hypothesis that, with the relaxation of most COVID-19 prevention measures, the COVID-19 economic crisis is primarily a demand-side crisis.

Like other developing countries, Myanmar households also struggled within the different crisis related to COVID-19 and other shocks for resilient food system. In fact, the prevention of food crises should be well planned until the health crisis is over. Therefore, the household food consumption changes in Nay Pyi Taw area are much interested in this study and how it could happen within the economic shock that have caused destruction across the country in Myanmar. The study aims to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on the household income and their food consumption changes toward the effective reaction for joint humanitarian action specifically to improve the livelihoods of households in Nay Pyi Taw. The study also aims to provide implications for policymakers and actors in the food supply chain on the issues of healthy and functional diets and food system resilience.

Objectives of the study

  1. Identify the impacts of COVID-19 on the household income and food consumption changes
  2. Observe the main reasons of food consumption changes and potential for the sustainable transition to healthy and functional food
  3. Identify the variations in food consumption changes with respect to COVID-19 related income changes                                                  

Study areas and sample selection of primary data collection

The study was implemented by conducting surveys with the respondents who are the residents of Zeyarthiri, Ottarathiri and Pobbathiri townships in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. Among the study areas, Zeyarthiri Township is located near the governmental institutions such as Department of Agricultural Research, Yezin Agricultural University and Forest Research Institute. The potential respondents were based on the fact that they are the main household members managing food at the households in order to collect data on food consumption changes. The research was based on convenience sampling and the potential participants who were self-selected in a voluntary way.

Method of data collection, data analysis and ethical considerations

The primary data collection was undertaken in October 2021. The research team visited the households, explained the purpose of the study and solicited their voluntary participation. After confirming the respondents’ agreement to be involved in the study, the interview was conducted using the structured questionnaire package. In the first section, the questionnaire seeks to collect the socio-demographic information of the respondents. It is followed by the set of questions that pursued to collect the information of the impacts of COVID-19 on their household income and food consumption. In the last section, the questions investigated the specific food items that the respondents did or did not alter and the motives and reasons behind such changes. After collecting the data, it was coded first before being loaded into EXCEL. Analysis of the data, the interpretation and the writing were carried out at the Department of Agricultural Economics of the Yezin Agricultural University. Descriptive analyses (group-level) were used to generate the sample characteristics. The study also employed Independent Samples T-test and ANOVA to analyze whether there is a significant difference between the respondents who were in the COVID-19 related income reduced group and stable income group regarding their food consumption changes. A number of ethical issues that were considered throughout the research study were as follows:

  • The participants right to be informed about the purpose of research and their voluntary agreement to participate in the study.
  • All questions posed to the participants to be of a non-personal nature and were related to matters within their professional competencies.
  • Confidentiality to be achieved by assigning a code to every questionnaire. All names and addresses of the participants are to be replaced by identification numbers to protect their identities.
  • The information to be aggregated to a group level: no individuals or the identities to be revealed or presented.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Demographic characteristics of respondents of selected households

The survey was conducted from 140 sample respondents in Nay Pyi Taw Council. Among the respondents interviewed, the average age was 43.70 years with a standard deviation of 12.31. The household’s average monthly income was US$269 (435,100 Myanmar Kyats). The family size ranged from 1 to 13 and the average was 4 persons among the respondent households (Table 1).A high percentage of respondents, 80.71 %, reside in urban areas as their response, however, the study areas are typically characterized as pre-urban where the governmental institutions are located nearby. The female ratio among the respondents was found to be 95.00 % as the survey was intended to interview the person who mostly manages the food in the households (Table 2).

The respondents were also categorized according to their education levels and types of occupation. The education level was divided into four. These includes primary school level where schooling usually takes 5 years, secondary school level where schooling usually takes up to 9 years, high school level where schooling usually takes up to 11 years and the graduate level where the respondents have received education from the university. The graduate level respondents represent nearly 40 % of the total respondents while the primary level respondents were 12.14 % (Table 2). Based on the categories of occupation, only 6.43 % were farmers while 40.71 % were employed by the public sector (Table 2). Among the total 140 respondents, there are a total of 567 household members among which 9.35 % were infected with COVID-19.

Income changes during COVID-19 

Lambrecht et al., (2020) stated that, as a result of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown restrictions on people’s social and economic activities, many people have lost their jobs and their household’s income fell significantly. In the first six months of 2020, it was found that 75 % of rural and 84 % of urban households were found to have loss of employment and their household’s income. These income declinations due to COVID-19 not only apply to wage workers but also to private businesses as these restrictions also challenge input supply and marketing activities. Most respondents working in the public sector said that their incomes were same as before while income earners from private sector responded that their incomes were decreased because of some businesses were arranged to reduce their working capacity and some restaurants, stores and shops sold their products only via online and delivery system. Meanwhile some private business related to the COVID protection accessories and pharmacy earned more income and some farmers said their incomes were increased because shortage of vegetables, eggs and their food items in the markets. In this study, nearly half, 47.86 % of the respondents were found to have income reduction following COVID-19 (Figure 1).

Food consumption changes during COVID-19

The results of the study showed that more than half, 66.43 % of the respondents were aware of COVID-19 impacts on their food consumption. The main question of this research was if people changed the amount of food consumption due to COVID-19. The results indicated that the consumption amount of certain food items was significantly changed due to COVID-19. Among the selected households, 83.57 % of the respondents increased egg consumption, followed by vegetable consumption with 79.29 %. In addition, the consumption of rice, chicken, fruits and purified water were increased by nearly 60 % of the respondents (Figure 2). In contrast, 54.41 % of respondents reduced the consumption of seafoods, 48.42 % reduced pork consumption, 43.88 % reduced beverages, 42.11 and 40.71 % reduced mutton and edible oil consumptions, respectively. Therefore, basically, the respondents were increasing the consumption of plant-based food. This result is consistent with the findings from Lambrecht et al. (2020) which stated that the increased consumption of plant-based food was partly due to the respondents having more time to plant vegetables and fruits in their homes and also utilizing more vegetables and fruits available in their neighborhoods.

Reasons of food consumption changes during COVID-19 

The COVID-19 pandemic, following restrictions and income changes can have significant impacts on people’s psychological well-beings. In such situation, it is speculated that people will eat more as a strategy to cope with the stress and anxiety. In addition, it is to hypothesize of the respondents that people will eat more of certain food items which are widely perceived to be healthy, nutritious, and effective in boosting the immune system to prevent being infected by the COVID-19 virus. On the other hand, some food items will not be readily available due to the border closures and difficulties in domestic distribution. The results of this availability will also influence the price of certain food items which will then affect the consumption rate. The other factors such as lockdown measures and social distancing will also influence the frequency of purchasing at the food outlets.

Eggs, chicken and fish 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, among the selected households, 83.57 % of the respondents increased egg consumption. These respondents stated that health was the main reason for their increased consumption and contributed 62.8 %. Additional reasons were availability which contributed 13.41 %, stress 8.54 % and social distancing 7.32 % (Figure 3). Price and income were not the significant reasons for the increased consumption of eggs and contributed only 3.66 % and 4.27 % respectively.

Among the respondents, 59.29 % increased chicken consumption. Health contributed as the main reason for such consumption change with 50 %. Availability and price were the additional significant reasons with 20.78 % and 14.29 % respectively. Stress, social distancing, and income only contributed small percentages (Figure 3).

Some respondents (44.93 %) increased their fish consumption. Interestingly, availability was the main reason for the change in fish consumption , and it was also the highest in fish compared with all other food items. Health was another significant reason and contributed 35.62 % of the reasons.

Rice, vegetables, pulses, purified water and fruits

The consumption changes due to health were the highest in the consumption of rice, vegetables, pulses, purified water and fruits. Rice consumption was increased by 58.57 % of the respondents. For such consumption changes, health contributed 58.62 % of all the reasons. Availability was also assigned as a reason with 17.24 %. It should be highlighted that the consumption changes due to the social distancing were also the highest in rice compared to all other food items.  Stress and price equally contributed only small amount to the rice consumption changes (Figure 3).

Among the respondents, 79.29 % increased vegetable consumption. Health acted as the main reason for the increased consumption and contributed 58.13 %.  Availability was another reason for their increased consumption and contributed 24.38 %. Price, income, stress, and social distancing only contributed small percentages for vegetable consumption changes. 51.08 % of the respondents increased pulses consumption. The reasons for the consumption changes between vegetables and pulses were found to be nearly evenly distributed (Figure 3).

More than half of the respondents (57.04 %) increased their purified water intakes. It is worth noting that the consumption changes due to health were the second highest in purified water intakes with 58.14 % after rice. Consumption of fruits was increased by 60 % of the respondents. For this increased consumption, health contributed 55.41 % of the reasons. Price and availability were the additional significant reasons with 15.29 % and 14.01 % respectively. Income, stress, and social distancing only contributed small percentages (Figure 3).

Seafood, pork, and edible oil

Seafood, pork, and edible oil are highlighted in the following section as their percentages decreased in consumption were significantly higher than increased consumption. Seafood was the top decreased food item among the respondent’s food system. Some respondents (54.41%) decreased their seafood consumption. The main reason of this consumption change was due to the price of seafood which contributed to 62.07% of all the reasons. It should be underlined that the consumption changes due to the price were the highest in seafood consumption compared with all other food items. Nearly half of the total respondents (48.42%) decreased their pork consumption. The main reason of this consumption change was due to the health and contributed 34.07 % of all reasons. It should be emphasized that the consumption changes due to the stress were the highest in pork consumption compared with all other food items. About 40 % of the respondents decreased their edible oil consumption. The main reason of this consumption change was due to health concerns which contributed 38.81 % of all reasons. It should be pointed out that the consumption changes due to the income were the highest in edible oil consumption compared with all other food items (Figure 3).

Frequency of eating at home, eating out and online food ordering

With the closure of restaurants during the COVID-19 lockdown period, a large portion, 81.41 % of the respondents increased the frequency of their food consumption at home.  Similarly, the majority of the respondents, 94.39 % decreased the frequency of eating outside of their homes. The high percentage of decrease in online food ordering and increase in eating at home showed that the respondents were preparing food on their own which can be interpreted as a way to cope with boredom and reduction in physical activities due to the mandatory lockdown policy.

Food consumption changes with respect to income changes during COVID-19 

In the following section, the food consumption changes were divided into two groups of respondents: who have stable income and who have reduced income during the COVID-19 period. Respondents with increased income were not included in the calculations due to its small proportion. The decrease in consumption of food items was found to be significant between groups of respondents who have stable income and who have reduced income (p < 0.01) (Table 3). The consumption of food without changing in amount was also found to be significant between two groups (p < 0.01). There is no significant difference in food consumption increased between two groups.

Interestingly, more than 80 % of respondents whose incomes have declined due to COVID-19 increased the consumption of eggs and vegetables (Figure 4). Therefore, it could be concluded that for income reduced respondent households, eggs and vegetables acted as vital sources of protein and micronutrients. It is followed by more than 50 % of respondents who increased their consumption of pulses and fruits. Nearly half of the respondents noticeably reduced their consumption of seafood, wheat and pork which are usually higher in price compared with the aforementioned food items. The rise of egg consumption can be explained by its longer shelf-life than meat making it convenient for stockpiling to minimize the frequency of shopping. In addition, it is usually in lower price compared with meat and therefore acted as a cheap protein source and became a potential meat substitute to cope with COVID-19 related financial crisis even though egg price increased during the COVID-19 outbreak period. The other interesting consumption change was the increased intake of drinking water. 67.74 % of income reduced respondents increased their water intakes whereas the stable income respondents who increased their water intakes were 46.38 %. In both groups, pork was the top food item that the respondents reduced their consumption. In contrast with income reduced group, nearly half of the income stable group decreased their consumption of beverages and edible oil. As stated in Table 3, there is no significant difference between the two groups regarding their food consumption increase (Figures 4 and 5).  

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION

The study indicated that the COVID-19 have impacted nearly half of the respondent’s household income and their food consumption. Among the respondent households, 9.35 % of the household members were found to be infected with COVID-19. This health crisis has posed a threat not only to people’s health but also to their mental well-being. Along with the impacts on income, the respondents have altered their food consumption as a way to adapt the mandatary lockdown policy and other increasing pressures. The respondents reduced the frequency of eating outside, online food ordering and increased the frequency of eating at home. In this study, the most critical concern for the respondents was found to be the consumption of more nutritious food.

Between the respondent groups who have stable income and who have reduced income during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a significant difference in the reduction of food consumption dynamics. Seafood was the top decreased food item among the income reduced group while pork was the top decreased food among the stable income group. In both groups, there were higher intakes of eggs, vegetables, rice, chicken, fruits, purified water and lower intakes of beverages, edible oil, wheat, seafood and meat items compared to their usual consumption amount. Therefore, it can be concluded that there was a trend where the respondents shift towards the healthier and more affordable food consumption system to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19 have helped the people shift towards healthier eating habits and encourage resourcefulness and improvement in terms of sustainable and affordable food consumption, it would be desirable if they can maintain this consumption dynamics throughout the time. This has important policy implications, for example for those households who cannot work because of the pandemic and/or for vulnerable households that have the largest reduced on their incomes, encouraging them to innovate their home gardens to increase plant-based food consumption would be desirable. Regarding the vulnerable groups in the remote areas, educational program should be widely introduced more because of their remoteness and educational level are limited in Myanmar.  These households are likely to require even more motivated support than other groups, both in terms of income and of food advice, especially when they drop into the more susceptible households. Developing the purchasing groups created or strengthened during the pandemic could also accelerate sustainability transition in the food chain and supply chains to help structure their collective action and partnerships with farmers.

REFERENCES

Laborde, D., Martin, W., Swinnen, J., & Vos, R. 2020. COVID-19 risks to global food security. Science, 369(6503), 500-502.

Lambrecht, I., Ragasa, C., Mahrt, K., Aung, Z. W., Ei Win, H., Zu, A. M., & Wang, M. 2020. Monitoring the impact of COVID-19 in Myanmar: Agricultural production and rural livelihoods in two irrigation schemes–October 2020 survey round (Vol. 36). Intl Food Policy Res Inst.

Myanmar Agriculture Policy Support Activity (MAPSA). 2021. Agro-processing, food prices, and COVID-19 shocks: Evidence from Myanmar’s rice mills. Myanmar SSP Working Paper 9. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). https://doi.org/10.2499/p15738coll2.134311

Ministry of Information (MOI). 2021. The Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Accessed 27 Nov. 2021https://www.moi.gov.mm/moi:eng/article/1440

Researchers of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Michigan State University. 2020. Impacts of COVID-19 on Myanmar’s agri-food system: Evidence base and policy implications. Myanmar SSP Working Paper 4. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). https://doi.org/10.2499/p15738coll2.134042

Swinnen, J., & McDermott, J. 2020. COVID‐19 and global food security. EuroChoices, 19(3), 26-33.

DECLARATION OF COMPETING INTEREST

- None

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We would like to thank Yezin Agricultural University, the Department of Agricultural Economics, and the study participants.

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