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  • To achieve zero hunger, all people must have cheap access to safe, wholesome, and nutrient-rich food

Global climate change has increased the frequency of natural calamities, which has reduced agricultural output and exacerbated the problem of food security. In developing nations like Pakistan, where the majority of the population still lives in poverty and hunger, there are serious problems with food security. Flood disasters ruin valuable land, cause agricultural production losses, and interrupt livelihood routines as expected household livelihood becomes more vulnerable. Pakistan was listed as the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to climate change-related natural disasters because of its frequent food supply and location in hazardous areas so, there is a lack of connection being made between certain sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the results of accepted agricultural technical items in developing nations.

As per the Government of Pakistan, in 2022, 53% of rural families in Pakistan are food insecure, making up a sizeable portion of the country’s rural population. Pakistan’s food security is disturbingly poor for a lower-middle-income nation: it only ranks 75th out of the 113 nations included in the Global Food Security Index (GFSI, 2021). Similar to Pakistan, rural communities suffer from rural poverty syndrome due to a lack of natural resources and the widespread usage of subpar crop protection chemicals but technology adoption can be essential for achieving agricultural sustainability and food security as technologically improved products can enhance farm productivity and play a crucial role in improving the food security but this increasing agricultural productivity to meet the brisk pace of food demand comes with social and environmental costs.

On the other hand, if we look at the progress of SDGs then we realise the fact that almost every nation is struggling to achieve its targets of SDGs. The UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 (zero hunger), which Pakistan is required to achieve by 2030, has become a contentious issue as a result of the country’s widespread flooding and damage from climate change. The government now imports critical goods worth $10 billion, including wheat, which is indicative of the food insecurity in the nation. Even if we export maize, potatoes, and rice, the availability of atta (wheat flour), ghee (oil), and cheeni (sugar) continues to be the key indicator of food security but the SDG of Zero hunger can only be achieved once a balanced diet is available to the masses.

More than ever, the truth of climate change must be faced by the entire globe as the relationship between emissions and effects is unbalanced. The disastrous and damaging floods in past years have made this clear.

Wheat Independence

Pakistan’s main goal is to become self-sufficient in the production of wheat. Our production and consumption of wheat have been consistently behind as a result of unpredictable weather fluctuations (temperature spikes in the early spring). Pakistan has had to import wheat for two years in a row to satisfy its demands. Accordingly, 30 million metric tonnes of demand are anticipated for 2022-23, whereas 26 MMT of output are anticipated. Almost 13% of the wheat is grown in Sindh, and almost a fourth of the province’s wheat is grown in the parts of the Punjab that are now experiencing flooding. 1.14 (MMT) of seeds are needed to grow 22 million acres of wheat. The home-saved wheat (for food and seed) is no longer accessible with a third of the nation under water. Around 0.5 MMT of certified seed is officially available. There is concern that a large portion of the land may continue to be too wet for sowing this season. Along with crops including rice, cotton, sugarcane, chilies, onions, fodders, dates, and vegetables, large areas of land are flooded in addition to wheat. The relocated livestock is extremely susceptible to illness and morbidity, which has an impact on the production of milk and meat.

Pakistan is at risk of failing to achieve SDG 2, which calls for ending hunger, as a result of the precarious situation, which is a sign of an imminent famine. To achieve zero hunger, all people must have cheap access to safe, wholesome, and nutrient-rich food. Numerous vital food crops have already been lost to us. It may take many years for the flood-affected areas to recover, which would prevent most of the land from being planted for the upcoming Rabi season. The availability of food will be significantly impacted by this. Imports might help make up for a shortage in wheat output. The crisis between Russia and Ukraine has already caused global prices to surge. The output of vegetables and oilseeds would also decline in Pakistan in the past few years, further increasing the burden on the import bill. Importing basic food items will make them unavailable to an inflation-stricken population.

Incredibly, 51 per cent of those living in Sindh and Balochistan’s drought- and flood-affected districts are thought to be food insecure. More than 45 per cent of Pakistani children under the age of five suffer from chronic undernourishment because less than 20 per cent of children satisfy their minimal dietary variety needs.

The issue is probably going to get worse now, endangering the achievement of SDG 2 even more. Resilient agriculture, rural infrastructure, agricultural research and technology, trade restrictions, and stable markets are the topics of targets 2.4, 2.6, 2.7, and 2.8, respectively. The possibilities for all of them in the upcoming years are now genuinely in jeopardy due to the floods.

According to Pakistan SDG Report 2021, 1.8% of the population in Pakistan was facing severe food insecurity (SDG 2.1). While the prevalence of stunting in children (SDG 2.2.1) was 37.6% in Pakistan, out of which, 30% was in Punjab, 50% in Sindh, 40% in KPK, 47% In Baluchistan, 47% in GB, and 39.3% in AJK. Prevalence of Malnutrition in children (SDG 2.2.1) was 7.1% in Pakistan, out of which, 4% in Punjab, 11.7% in Sindh, 7.5% in KPK, 18.3% In Baluchistan, 1.1% in GB, 6.4 in AJK. Prevalence of anemia among women between 15-49 years (SDG 2.3), 35.5% among pregnant and 43% among non-pregnant in Pakistan, out of which, 36.1% among pregnant and 41.3% among non-pregnant in the Punjab, 38.2% among pregnant and 45.7% among non-pregnant in Sindh, 14.3% among pregnant and 34% among non-pregnant in KPK, 53.9% among pregnant and 61.8% among non-pregnant in Balochistan, 29.6% among pregnant and 36.1% among non-pregnant in GB, and 34.8 among pregnant and 56.4% among non-pregnant in AJK. Global statistics based on the most recent UN data suggest that Pakistan has a population of almost 230 million people, of which 30% are children under the age of 18 and 10% are people over the age of 60 (dependents). The adult population (working-age population) is now 138 million people between the ages of 19 and 60.

The World Bank estimates that Pakistan’s overall labour force will be 73.4 million in 2021-22 and that the country’s unemployment rate will be 12.0 percent by the end of 2022, or 9.0 million unemployed. This would imply that 73.3 million of Pakistan’s adult population are either jobless or do not participate in the labor force, leaving them dependent on the 64.7 million’s production. The argument is that in 2022, there will be just 64.7 million people working in the country, leaving 230 million mouths to feed. According to ILO data, 27.2 million people (37.0%) are employed in agriculture, which provides food for the population and the raw materials for industry.

According to the (FAO in Pakistan), just 22.0 million hectares (or about 27.5%) of Pakistan’s total land area, or about 800,000 square kilometres, are used for agriculture. The remaining land is made up of rangelands, heavily inhabited woodlands, and arable waste. One of the lowest in the globe and one of the lowest in the area is land productivity in the agricultural sector, particularly for food crops. The GDP of Pakistan is barely 22% derived from agriculture. Out of which 12% come from fishing and livestock farming, and 2% from forests. Only 8% of GDP is derived from farming, with 3% coming from major food crops (wheat, maize, and rice), 3% from cash crops (cotton, sugarcane, and tobacco), and the remaining 2% from minor crops. When the total amount of food crops produced in Pakistan in 2021–2022 is divided by the country’s 230 million people, the result is the following per capita amounts: wheat 0.11 tons (26.4 million tonnes divided by 230 million people); rice 0.04 tons (9.3 million tons divided by 230 million people); and total food grain 1.55 tons (46.7 million tons divided by 230 million people). When we split the 53 million tonnes of milk, the 2.46 million tons of beef, the 0.8 million tons of mutton, the 20 million tons of chicken meat, and the 22.5 billion eggs produced in Pakistan in 2021–2022, the picture becomes even more bleak.

Action must be taken right away to address the food vulnerabilities in order to prevent the approaching hunger crisis. The federal and provincial governments in Pakistan must seriously consider food patterns and methods of import substitution through self-reliance, that are not affected by climate change and other calamities, and will have to develop long-term sustainability for agriculture and food security policies that ensure technological advancements in order to reduce hunger, malnutrition, and stunting in Pakistan and reduce dependence on foreign imports like wheat and cooking oil.

Additionally, to ensure that the majority of the population has access to nutrition and a daily diet that contains more calories than are necessary for a sustainable lifestyle, the prices of basic food items in the nation will need to be reduced or rationed through some kind of ration cards for the poor and school-aged children. Although the government in the last few years put lunger-khanas (free food stalls), Khas Programmes, and Benazir Income Support programmes in place to lessen hunger and poverty of the destitute in the nation, these programmes are inadequate and are a burden on the government’s budget and tax policy. As a result, people should be taught to become productive and to produce their own food through government and community-initiated programs and skill enhancement so quick actions accompanied by implementations are necessary to secure not only Pakistan but across the world to remove the curse of hunger.

“Hunger is not a problem. It is an obscenity. How wonderful it is that nobody needs to wait a single moment before starting to improve the World” (Anne Frank).

The author is MD IRP/ Faculty Department of H&SS Bahria University Karachi