Comprehensive strategy needed to address food security challenges
Ensuring food security is now a challenge for Pakistan given its huge population and high level of poverty and malnutrition. The concept of food security is multi-dimensional, food security exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preference for an active and healthy life. Food insecurity and, consequently, food poverty is on increasing over time in Pakistan.
Article 38 (d) of the Constitution of Pakistan ensures provision of basic necessities of life including food for the citizens of Pakistan. It says: “The State shall provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief, for all citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment”.
Pakistan is a lower-middle-income country that has made significant strides towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and Vision 2025, which sets out the country’s development priorities. At the current pace, Pakistan is unlikely to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 2 and 17 by 2030 despite strong government commitment and efforts, with progress stalled by climate change, gender inequality and most recently the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. Rates of stunting and wasting among children under 5 are high. A lack of good quality data is an ongoing challenge that requires attention given its importance to policy decisions and monitoring of Sustainable Development Goals. Less than half of Pakistan’s budget is funded from domestic revenues. The inflow of direct foreign investment has continued to fall, and official development assistance has also decreased.
The 2021 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report identified Pakistan as a food crisis country with high levels of acute food insecurity. The report estimates that the prevalence of undernourishment in Pakistan is 12.9 percent. According to the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), 16.4 per cent of Pakistanis (38 million people) are moderately or severely food insecure and 1.8 per cent are severely food insecure. In some districts, moderate or severe food insecurity affects 49 per cent of the population.
The fragmentation of food security and nutrition data continues to reduce the effectiveness of national policies and legislation, increasing the likelihood of misallocation of national resources. Pakistan has experienced high inflation and volatile food prices, highlighting the need to strengthen the food system. Inadequate food production, market distortions and trade limitations also push up food prices, resulting in high average food prices compared to similar countries listed in the Global Food Security Index.
Food is considered among the basic amenities, essential for the sustenance and growth of an individual. It has three dimensions (a) food availability – total food production including imports and buffer stocks maintained in government warehouses (b) Food accessibility – food should be made available or should be within reach of each and every person (c) food affordability – an individual should have enough amount of money to purchase proper, safe, healthy and nutritious food to meet his dietary needs.
In the recently released Global Hunger Index, 2023 Pakistan ranked 102nd out of 125 countries and this report is quite disturbing since Pakistan is one of the largest producers of food grains in the world. Still, Pakistan lacks fulfilling the basic amenities of its people.
There was a time when Pakistan was considered as self-sufficient in food availability thereafter due to ineffective policies, lack of interest and various other unknown factors, Pakistan is now a net importer of food items. It is a fact that there are millions of people below the poverty line who are unable to get square meals per day and according to recent data approximately 140 million people in Pakistan go to bed without food, the data is very alarming and the situation is getting even worse. The crux of Pakistan’s food problem pertains not so much to increasing food availability but to the distribution of food. There are various challenges that Pakistan faces in attaining food security. Natural calamities like excessive rainfall, accessibility of water for irrigation purposes, drought, soil erosion, undulating topography and various soil types such as degraded soil, infertile soil, acidic & alkaline soil, non-improvement in agricultural facilities, growth in population, lack of education and job opportunities, selling agricultural land to real estate companies, lack of finances have further added to the problems. Another challenge which Pakistan faces in attaining food security is dependence on the monsoon as well as labor on a daily wage basis, which tends to be variable at different times thus food procurement and access is fluctuating.
There is a need to shift from the current inefficient, expensive, and corruption-ridden arrangements to those that will guarantee cheap delivery and distribution of the requisite quality of food grains in a transparent manner. To curb existing problems of food security, the government should make such plans and policies which could address the core issue permanently.
Availability refers to the physical availability of food stock in desired quantities. Food production is the basis of food security. It can be alleged that the increased availability of food is an essential condition for achieving food security in Pakistan. Food availability relates to the supply of food through production, distribution, carryover stocks and imports. The net availability of food production is estimated by excluding exports and including imports. Pakistan’s self-sufficiency in food grain has been a major achievement since 1947.
Food security directly depends upon the total production of food grains, net availability of food grains and per capita net availability of food grains including the price of it.
Challenges of Food Security
The challenges Pakistan is facing in meeting its food security are as follows:
Climate change is expected to effect agricultural land use and production due to less availability of water for irrigation and other factors. There is a climate change in Pakistan due to rising temperatures and extreme events in the food production systems, which impacts agricultural growth adversely. Various reports indicate that climate change would result in further affecting the availability of water and extreme events of flood and drought. There is a strong need to address changes in institutions and resource accessibility to tackle climate-induced natural hazards.
In recent years there has been great emphasis of agricultural scientists on the implementation of crop diversification. The price of food grains like rice and wheat are not encouraging and farmers end up with very low returns. By concentrating on other crops, the farmers were encouraged to earn higher profits.
A mismatch between water demand and availability
There is a vast temporal variation in rainfall and water availability in the country. The majority of water is available during the monsoon period and that too, through few spells of intense rainfall. The demand for water for various purposes is increasing due to population growth, industrialization and urbanization. Presently, the agriculture sector is using over 80 percent of water resources, but due to demand from other sectors availability may decline in the future. Waste of water is another reason for this mismatch. Pakistan throws away large quantities of useable water at the sea every year without realizing its value yet not considering constructing dams.
Fragmentation of land is widespread in Pakistan and it is believed that the fragmented nature of landholding plays a major role in explaining low levels of agricultural productivity. An increasing population has led to a reduction in the availability of land over the decades. There has been an increase in putting agricultural land into non-agricultural uses to accommodate developmental activities, leading to land fragmentation and low productivity. Therefore, there is a need for a shift in land use and cropping patterns.
Quality seeds and planting materials
The challenge confronting the seed sector is to make available quality seeds having good genetic potential at an affordable price and across the country to the farmers to enable them to harvest maximum yield in the given agro-climatic conditions.
Another critical and crucial challenge is supply chain management in agricultural marketing in Pakistan. Farmer’s access to the market is hampered by poor roads, excessive regulation and poor market infrastructure. Hence, steps must be taken for the betterment of agricultural marketing by allowing the private sector and Foreign Direct Investment to improve the marketing and agricultural produce in Pakistan.
The crux of Pakistan’s food problem pertains not so much to increasing food availability but to the distribution of food and storing food items properly. There are various challenges which Pakistan faces in attaining food security, including, natural calamities like excessive rainfall, accessibility of water for irrigation purposes, drought, soil erosion, undulating topography and various soil types such as degraded soil, infertile soil, acidic & alkaline soil, non-improvement in agricultural facilities, growth in population, lack of education and job opportunities have further added to the problems. Another challenge which Pakistan faces in attaining food security is dependence on monsoon as well as labor on a daily wage basis, which tends to be variable at different times thus food procurement and access is fluctuating. The constraints in ensuring food security and reducing hunger are due to inappropriate policy.
Pakistan has formulated, devised and issued many policies and started many programs in the agriculture sector; however, food insecurity and malnutrition still couldn’t be addressed fully and it will continue to be high in the coming months and years. The problem is with both the design and implementation of the programs. The focus of reforms should now be shifted to more efficient delivery systems of public services. It is to be recognized that better governance is necessary for the effective functioning of food-based programs. Despite ensuring ample availability of food, the existence of food insecurity at the micro-level in the country has remained a formidable challenge for Pakistan.
Improved irrigation technologies can help farmers to use water more efficiently and effectively, reducing water waste and increasing crop yields are two key elements of food security. Improved measures to be taken by the farmers can help to improve the soil health and can also increase the yield. Without improving the yield along with the best utilization of water and soil and the conditions of warehouses for keeping the food items stored and supervision and supply chain management will not help Pakistan in securing food security.