Globally, the issue of food insecurity has taken the central stage of policymakers. Nearly a billion people across the world experience the effects of food insecurity with the largest proportion of undernourished people living in Asia and the Pacific Islands, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa. (1)
Pakistan has also been one of the worst-impacted nations in the world in terms of a massive increase in the number of chronically food-insecure populations. Prime Minister Imran Khan while announcing the Kisan Card said that “farmers are the backbone of Pakistan and it is a step in moving towards modern agriculture and would transform and change Pakistan.” (2)
The recent food crisis in the country has attracted popular attention throughout the country, while there is also criticism of the policymakers for being unable to present a timely assessment of demand and supply. This issue has been further augmented by the recent food price crisis which has adversely impacted the purchasing power of those already living below the poverty line of less than $2 a day. According to the International Food Security Assessment by the US Department of Agriculture in the coming decade from 2021-31, a total of 38 percent of the population of Pakistan is going to be food insecure. This assessment also reports that Pakistan suffers from the largest food gap in the whole region, with the highest food insecurity level even below Bangladesh. It stands at 389 with Nepal around 255. (3)
Moreover, a recent survey conducted by the World Food Program suggests that around 82 percent of children in Pakistan have been deprived of a meal when they need one, and has the second highest rate of malnutrition in the region. Approximately 18 percent of children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition and 40 percent of children in the same age group suffer from stunted growth. According to a Pakistan Bureau of Statistics report, 16% of the population is experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity. The incidence is twice as high among the rural population, 20%, and among the urban, 9.2%. Moreover, three out of five households are experiencing food insecurity.
Food insecurity is not just about the shortage of food, it also signifies people’s inability to purchase the required amount of food to sustain a day. Also, food insecurity affects women, children and rural households disproportionately, which leads to socio-economic inequalities and increases the number of food-insecure households. Thus it is important that the government devise its policies to ensure equitable economic growth and wealth distribution in the country. Growing the size of the economy is equally important to create job opportunities for a larger proportion of people so that they can have the income to access food along with other provisions of life. Moreover, the availability of staple foods like wheat can be ensured by creating more cultivable lands along with using the available land and its resources more effectively through modern technological enhancement. (4)
Looking at such an adverse situation of food insecurity, the government of Pakistan has initiated a program in Punjab province known as “Kisan card”. Kissan Cards are issued to farmers benefiting from various government programs. It aims to consolidate the recipient’s information for transparent and efficient implementation of these interventions. Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) has developed a digital platform and has provided all district administrations with user logins to enter details of farmers in their jurisdictions. The information added to the system pertains to demographics, contact details, crops and landholding patterns, livestock, irrigation system and mechanization. This initiative has resulted in the appropriate allocation of schemes to the right farmers, ease in a broadcasting messages to the larger mass and the creation of a centralized database.
Likewise, Pakistan’s agricultural cooperation under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) provides an important opportunity to revamp the agriculture sector, increasing its efficiency and productivity in the long run. As Goal 2 of the SDGs seeks sustainable solutions to sustain hunger and achieve food security, the promotion of sustainable agriculture is the key to achieving the targets.
The government of Pakistan should initiate programs similar to the Green Revolution. The Green revolution brought an abrupt increase in the production level of major crops such as wheat yields tripled, and rice and potato yields more than doubled. This shows us a significant effort in curbing food insecurity.
- The state of food security and nutrition in the world’’, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. https://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/
- “Kisan Card Will Transform Pakistan: PM Imran Khan”, Dawn News, April 26, 2021 https://www.dawn.com/news/1620494
- Climate Risks and Food security analysis: A special report for Pakistan,” World Food Program, SDPI. Govt. of Pakistan, December 2018.
- Mir Sherbaz Khetran, 2021, Food Security Challenges for Pakistan, Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad)
Syed Muhammad Amir
Assistant Professor at the Institute of Agricultural Extension, Education, and Rural Development, University of Agriculture Faisalabad
Assistant Professor at the Institute Development Studies (IDS), the University of Agriculture Peshawar
Ph.D. Scholar, School of International Trade and Economics, University of International Business and Economics Beijing, China