Pakistan is among the few developing countries which are experiencing adverse effects of climate change due to excessive use of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) in the last few decades which is resulting in intense heat waves and torrential rainfalls causing severe droughts and floods. This erratic change has direct implications for the production ecosystem of the agriculture sector which, in turn, reflects on the food security situation in Pakistan as the balance between the level of food production and availability of stocks is disturbed.
During recent floods, millions of acres of wheat, rice, and corn growing areas got submerged which will result in increased import bills due to a reduction of harvest and post-harvest losses. Food security risk has increased significantly due to the unpredictable nature of temperature and rainfalls. Physical access and affordability are also two important parameters of food security. Due to increasing food prices globally, the buying power of the common man has been squeezed further exacerbating food security challenges in Pakistan.
The recent floods have triggered a vicious cycle. Starting from the agriculture sector (both forward and backward linkages) which is the mainstay of the rural population is said to have taken the worst hit. Connected to it is the food security issue as a lot of crops and livestock have been washed away which may result in food shortages and price hikes in the coming months. Brewing somewhere in between is a humanitarian crisis as a lot of people associated with agriculture sector will now be unemployed which will trigger a fresh wave of poverty.
In 2018, Pakistan introduced its first-ever National Food Security Policy. Its goal was to increase food availability, accessibility, and sustainability by making the agriculture sector more productive, modern, and climate-resilient. In Pakistan, 23 percent of the GDP is dependent on the agricultural sector. Even before the floods, 40% of the population faced chronic food insecurity which has aggravated further due to rising inflation.
Currently, Pakistan ranks 92nd out of 116 countries on the Global Hunger Index. The UN has warned that 5.7 million flood survivors in Pakistan will face a food crisis within the next three months. Perishing livestock is another blow to the farmers as traditionally it used to offset the loss of harvest but not anymore as surviving livestock is suffering due to the unavailability of fodder and the outbreak of disease.
In the short run, the government should make the process easy for farmers to get interest-free loans in flood-hit areas and facilitate them in obtaining machinery and input. They should be provided financial assistance on the pattern of BISP/Ehsaas to prepare the fields. Dewatering and drainage of water from agricultural lands should be done on a war footing basis so that the fields can be prepared for crop cultivation. Livestock farmers should be compensated.
After the pandemic and disruption of the global food supply chain due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the blockage of transportation, many countries have started following the policy of self-sufficiency. One suggestion to increase agricultural production in Pakistan is by adding new land but considering waterlogging/salinity issues and the rapidly increasing population, it may not be workable.
Adding fuel to fire is the rising commercialization of housing societies that are usurping fertile agricultural land. This could, however, be addressed by increasing cropping intensity, seed coating (adding new varieties), and crop yield through the adoption of climate-smart agricultural technologies and practices. A list of relevant technologies and agronomic practices needs to be planned and prioritized with respect to cost-benefit analysis and their impact on food security. Information and communication technology-enabled extension services can aid in the transfer of such technical know-how to farmers effectively.