Food insecurity: A threat to the future of Pakistan
LATER this year in August Pakistan will celebrate 75th Anniversary of its Independence. A land of five rivers, majestic mountains, lush green fertile land for centuries known as the granary of the region.
So how is it that today Pakistan is facing food security issue, one of the most important security threats of all.
According to “Vision 2030” of the Planning Commission of Pakistan, about half of the population in the country suffers from absolute to moderate malnutrition, with the most vulnerable being children, women and elderly among the lowest income group.
Safe and sufficient food today is a guarantee of a healthy and prosperous tomorrow.
According to World Food Programme approximately 36 per cent population of Pakistan is experiencing food insecurity.
Close to 82 per cent of children in the country have been deprived of a meal when they need one, and Pakistan has the second-highest rate of malnutrition in the region.
Approximately 18 per cent of children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition and 40 per cent of children in the same age group suffer from stunted growth.
This is shocking to say the least Many countries became independent around the same time as us, in fact, several of them gained independence years after Pakistan came into existence and are now far more developed and advanced in agriculture.
China is a good example in terms of the dedicated efforts, investment, mechanization and focused research in seed development and other techniques it undertook to ensure the development of its agriculture sector.
China eliminated absolute poverty in 2021 lifting 800 million people out of poverty in the short period of 15 years. A feat unparalleled in human history.
In Pakistan unstable political environment, frequent change of governments and policies, lack of consensus on long-term comprehensive strategic development vision, sluggish economic growth, absence of targeted state interventions to modernize agriculture sector, neglect in constructing dams to preserve water which is now becoming scarce, half-hearted attempts at land reforms, a rush to develop urban centres with callous neglect of the rural areas are a few of the factors, among others, that have contributed to the situation where we are faced with the food security issues.
Food insecurity is staring us in the face today despite some progress made in terms of food production in recent years.
Renaming the concerned Ministry as the Ministry of Food Security was an encouraging first step as it is a much larger and all-encompassing concept.
This has gone some way in focusing the attention of the people and the relevant institutions that food safety and food security is an issue that needs urgent attention if Pakistan wants to develop.
Other steps include attempts at increasing production, increase food imports, implementation of poverty reduction strategies, nutritional improvement programs and provision of social safety nets are all positive indications that realization is dawning about need for corrective measures.
The onset of climate change has added another dimension of urgency to an already existing problem.
Climate change is one of the most important global environmental challenges facing humanity.
It is now evident that Pakistan is highly vulnerable to climate change due to its geo- political and geographic placement.
Pakistan unfortunately falls in the group of countries, highly exposed to negative consequences of climate change.
Our economy is still dependent on agriculture and climate change could be lethal for this all important sector which is the backbone of our economy, putting our Food Security at risk.
We need to wake up to the fact that Climate change will challenge the socio-economic fabric of the country and if remedial measures are not taken on priority, this can become the single most monster to add to the woes of the already food insecurity people.
Food insecurity is not just about food shortage in the market.It also signifies the absence of sufficient money to buy food and nutrition.
In Pakistan we see a great difference in the level of food insecurity and hunger from one province to another.
Due to some backward cultural norms, the adult male members get preference when it comes to distribution of food in poor households and women and children suffer the most due to lack of food.
There is an urgent need to take focused action on a war footing in Pakistan to ensure we get a handle on the issue of food security and safety. Unfortunately the problem is far too complex to offer a simple answer.
Some of the steps that the government and concerned ministries and institutions may consider taking on priority are as follows:
• Education and train people, institutions and organizations involved in food production and distribution.
In this regard an interconnected approach that brings academia, citizens, governments, industry and non-governmental organizations together to act on solutions and strategies to ensure food security
• Traceability in the food supply chain and development of a broad range of technologies to connect the steps and make food more traceable and, therefore, safer for consumers.
• Invest and encourage private and FDI in agriculture to make the per acre yield better, invest in grain research, non –toxic fertilizers, facilitate introduction of modern irrigation, planting and harvesting techniques, provision of reasonable loans to the farmers and, above all, introduce land reforms which is an important lynchpin for the development of agriculture.
• Cattle farming may be modernized and farmers and organizations enabled to improve dairy and meat production
• Pakistan is the 5th largest producer of milk yet our finished products are few and not of international standards.
Proper policy initiatives, facilitation and training can make this industry prosper.
• Halal meat is also a great and large industry in which our share is very little.
Proactive policy intervention and incentives can contribute in a big way towards food security in Pakistan.
• Aquaculture and seafood production can be very effective for greater food safety and sustainability, focusing on improving current practices and expanding and up-scaling for the future.
—The writer is former Ambassador, based in Islamabad.