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Food security remains a significant concern in Pakistan, a country with a population exceeding 240 million people. Despite its agricultural potential, challenges such as water scarcity, climate change, land degradation, and economic disparities continue to affect the nation’s ability to ensure consistent access to safe and nutritious food for all its citizens. Let us have a quick wrap up of these challenges:

Pakistan heavily relies on the Indus River for irrigation, but the country faces severe water scarcity due to several factors: firstly, the uneven water distribution leading to disputes among provinces and water scarcity in some regions; secondly, mismanagement, inefficient and outdated irrigation practices reduce the water use efficiency; thirdly, vulnerability climate change, including irregular monsoon patterns and increasing temperatures leads to prolonged droughts and reduced water availability for agriculture, affecting crop yields and food production; fourthly, the excessive extraction of groundwater for irrigation has led to the depletion of aquifers; fifthly, the rapid population growth puts additional pressure on available water resources by increasing its demand for both the domestic and agricultural use; finally, inadequate infrastructure for water storage and transportation, such as dams and canals, limits the efficient distribution of water, especially during the dry seasons. In short, water scarcity will lead to reduced crop yields that will lead to price volatility which will affect the livelihood and worsen the food and nutritional security of the country.

Climate change poses a significant challenge to Pakistan’s food security. The country is highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, which can disrupt agricultural patterns and jeopardize the availability and quality of food. Erratic weather patterns can disrupt crop cycles, damage infrastructure, and negatively impact food production. Changes in precipitation patterns and increased evaporation due to rising temperatures can lead to water scarcity. Higher temperatures and altered rainfall patterns can adversely affect crop yields. For instance, wheat, rice, and cotton, which are staple crops in Pakistan, are highly sensitive to changes in temperature and water availability. Furthermore, the warmer temperatures can create favorable conditions for the proliferation of pests and diseases that affect crops. Increased pest pressure can lead to crop losses and a decline in food production. In addition, global warming has accelerated glacial melting, which could lead to disruptions in water supply for irrigation, potentially impacting crop production. All this may disproportionately affect vulnerable communities, including small-scale farmers and marginalized populations who are often dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. As a result, reduced crop yields and food insecurity can lead to poverty and malnutrition among these groups. This may lead to price volatility in the food market, making food less affordable for consumers, particularly those with limited resources.

Land degradation is a significant challenge to Pakistan’s food security. It refers to the decline in the quality and productivity of land, often caused by factors such as soil erosion, salinization, desertification, and deforestation. Soil erosion, caused by factors like water and wind, leads to the loss of fertile topsoil. This can reduce the soil’s capacity to support crop growth, leading to lower agricultural productivity. In many areas of Pakistan, improper irrigation practices have resulted in the accumulation of salts in the soil. This salinization, along with waterlogging, can make the land unsuitable for agriculture, reducing arable land and crop yields. Parts of Pakistan, particularly in Baluchistan and Sindh provinces, are vulnerable to desertification, which is the process of arable land turning into desert due to factors like prolonged droughts and overgrazing. This reduces available land for agriculture. Cutting down forests for agriculture and other purposes contributes to land degradation. Deforestation can lead to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and a decrease in the land’s ability to support crop growth. In short, land degradation can lead to reduced crop yields and the cultivation of lower-quality crops, affecting food availability and affordability.

Economic disparity is a significant challenge to Pakistan’s food security. Economic disparities in the country mean that a significant portion of the population cannot afford a nutritious and balanced diet, even when food is available. Many people, especially those in lower income brackets and who are vulnerable to fluctuations in food prices, may struggle to afford essential food items. This can lead to malnutrition, as impoverished individuals and families may not have the means to access a diverse and nutritious diet. This can result in micronutrient deficiencies, which can have long-term health consequences. Economic disparities are often associated with poverty that results in food insecurity, where people are unsure of where their next meal will come from or must make trade-offs between buying food and other essential expenses, such as healthcare or education. Such situations can lead to social unrest and political instability, as communities may become discontented with the government’s inability to address their basic needs.

To cope with these challenges, the National Food Security Policy of Pakistan was launched in 2018, aimed at ensuring food security and reducing malnutrition in the country. The policy has five strategic objectives to: ensure availability of food through improved and efficient food production system; improve access to food through enhancing the purchasing power of the poor and vulnerable populations using targeted social safety nets, such as the Benazir Income Support Program, to improve access to food; promote nutritious food consumption by focusing on promoting the consumption of nutritious food, especially for women and children, to reduce malnutrition and stunting; strengthen food safety and quality control to ensure that the food consumed is safe and nutritious; and improve coordination and governance among government agencies, civil society organizations, and the private sector to ensure the effective implementation of food security programs.

The National Food Security Policy of Pakistan is a comprehensive framework that provided a roadmap for addressing the challenges of food insecurity and malnutrition in the country. Its success depends on the effective implementation of its strategies and the allocation of adequate resources to achieve its objectives. Till date the implementation remained jeopardized due to many factors. Let us not go into the details of this jeopardy, and look at a brief SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of this Policy:

The strengths of this policy are firstly, the comprehensiveness as it is a comprehensive framework that addresses the multiple dimensions of food security, including food availability, access, and nutrition; secondly, proposing a targeted approach as it targets vulnerable populations, such as women and children, and provides targeted social safety nets to improve their access to food; thirdly, promoting sustainable agriculture practices to ensure the long-term availability of food and protect natural resources; and finally, focusing on food safety and quality control systems to ensure that the food consumed is safe and nutritious.

The weaknesses of the policy may be the implementation challenges due to limited resources, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and lack of political will; and limited stakeholder involvement (civil society organizations and the private sector) in the policy’s implementation, which may limit the effectiveness of the policy.

The opportunities may include international support especially from international organizations, to support its implementation; technological innovations, such as mobile apps and online marketplaces, can improve the efficiency of the food supply chain and enhance food security; and public-private partnerships to leverage the strengths of both sectors in addressing food insecurity.

The threats may be political instability that can undermine the effective implementation of the policy and divert resources away from food security programs. Pakistan has faced this for many years now, and natural disasters such as floods and droughts, can disrupt food production and distribution systems and exacerbate food insecurity. Recent floodings have devastating impacts.

Overall, while the National Food Security Policy of Pakistan has many strengths, its implementation faces challenges that need to be addressed. By leveraging opportunities and addressing weaknesses and threats, the policy can be effectively implemented to improve food security and reduce malnutrition in the country.

The author is 1- Associate Professor, Institute of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad and 2- Co-Chair, Policy, Advocacy and Outreach, Pak-Korea Nutrition Center, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad