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Sustainable food future – duty of all

Sustainable food future – duty of all

Food must make us feel good. And by making healthier and more mindful choices, food becomes a microcosm of society and the current social disorders — climate crises, lifestyle, culture, and economics. In Pakistan, food is a metaphor for life itself — from the youthful exuberance, energy, and innovation of a young nation, to making correct health choices, aspects of food security, adapting to global warming, impacting the economy, and how it will become more sustainable for today and future generations.

As an agricultural heartland, one would wonder if Pakistan would be food-secure. Alas, this is far from it. Unprecedented food prices have prompted a worldwide crisis that will drive countless life-threatening poverty, who are reeling from malnutrition and hunger. The Russo-Ukraine war, supply chain disruptions, and the persistent economic fallout as a result of Covid-19 have reversed years of hard-won development gains, leading to record inflation.

The recent devastating floods in Pakistan are largely the result of climate change that has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather disasters such as floods and droughts. It has augmented water management problems, diminished agricultural production, and marred food security, while simultaneously increasing incidents of disease, damage to communities and infrastructure, and upturned access to water and sanitation, education, energy, and transport.

More than 116 districts have been affected, with 1 million houses washed away, over 10 million left homeless, crops and livestock completely annihilated, 40+ dams breached, 200+ bridges collapsed, and road and rail networks across the country severely damaged. This has impacted the livelihoods, security and integrity of human life, and the income perpetuity of communities. 

As the relief efforts roll in, one day at a time, the nation is deploying short-term responses to boost nutrition and strengthen food systems, and ration distribution. As much as all of us must contribute to providing relief to safeguard the sanctity of all, one wonders if about 5-10 years down the line, we will be doing the same – providing relief for yet another and more vicious disaster that might return with a vengeance as climate crisis has come to hit us head-on and it is here to stay. If we intend to survive this, we need to change the present. Our food system must be adapted to global warming as it reaches a catastrophic scale.

Corrupt, undisciplined, disorderly, and chaotic articulates Pakistan’s food security at the moment. For Pakistanis, a nation riddled with a fair share of issues, being environmentally conscious is no more a choice but a necessity. It is no longer a state or institutional responsibility. It is a nationwide problem, at all levels, and all of us must join hands to align ourselves with being environmentally cognizant to remain sustainable for a livable future. Our children are growing up with no knowledge of agriculture, regenerative farming techniques, and a sustainable future. We’re not enabling them to make sense of the world in which they will find themselves, and they will have to deal with it.

Achieving food sustainability for the planet is not only up to the agricultural industry or global powers. Individual choices play an equally important role in the welfare of food systems. While we are drenched in dismal devastation, the other part of the world faces a similar crisis, albeit the process is slow and the nature of the disaster is different. The UK, USA, and Europe are exhausted with soaring temperatures while Pakistan wakes up to yet another downpour.

As we speak to Shumaila Hashmi, a doctor at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, and a passionate home gardener based in London, she conveys the challenges of growing sustainable food there. “Climate change is making growing things difficult. In Manchester, we usually have sufficient rain, but now the long summers are causing droughts. As a small gardener, I have to collect water in water butts in case there is a hosepipe ban. So I constantly have to think about ways of watering my plants in case of scarcity. I am trying hard to understand the nutritional science, soil quality and seasons, and the natural system of balance.”

Continuing on the same tangent, at a national level, Nadeem Hussain, an economic policy researcher, strategist, and co-author of The Economy of Modern Sindh and Agents of Change, charted the way forward for ‘The Future of Food’. “Floods have resulted in three grave concerns. Firstly, food inflation and insecurity, as the population shifts from rural to urban cities, which disturbs the agricultural economy in the rural areas, with unplanned food systems in the urban centers.

Secondly, it will lead to a further balance of payment crisis as wheat and sugar, two staples of Pakistan, will be imported, leading to an eventual economic deterioration. Thirdly, both of the above will result in a major economic crisis for Pakistan. The key solution is to promote the agricultural sector to become food-sufficient in the future. The surplus will increase our exports, which will finance our debt. Technological interventions, supporting traditional farming, facilitating farmers with disbursing loans, and facilitating small-scale farmers are some of the ways that impact substantially on the lines of feeding an entire nation. We are primarily an agricultural nation. This doesn’t need to be learned. We need to re-focus and reconfigure our policies.”

Life and health cannot be bought with prescription, money, and influence. Tackling structural dimensions is important. A sustainable food system should address issues, such as climate change, reversing biodiversity loss, public health, and farming in harmony with nature. Strengthening agricultural institutions, improving infrastructure and storage facilities, and injecting capital into a stagnant farming sector will make Pakistan food-secure. An immediate call for a sweeping transformation for a healthy planet is highly imperative.

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