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The current world population is 8.1 billion. By 2050, it is expected that the world’s population will grow to nearly 10 billion; thus increasing our need for food by more than 100 per cent. Currently, 1 in 8 people, or 842 million, struggle with hunger every day. While agriculture has evolved in order to meet these intensely growing food demands, farmers will need to increase food production by 70-100 per cent to meet global nutrition needs. There is relatively little available land on which to cultivate food. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) projections indicate that 80 per cent of the additional food required to meet demand in 2050 will need to come from land already under cultivation. The result is that our farmers and food producers must produce those higher yields using the same (or less) acreage than they use today while relying on fewer natural resources. The global food system is one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gases. Globally, food production is linked to 70% of biodiversity loss on land. As the human population grows, these impacts will only increase.

Sustainably nourishing a global population of 9.7 billion by 2050, while meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will require food systems that are inclusive, sustainable, efficient, nutritious and healthy. These are being regularly monitors global, regional and national progress towards the targets of ending both hunger and food insecurity (Sustainable Development Goal [SDG] Target 2.1) and all forms of malnutrition (SDG Target 2.2) in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Based on the 1996 World Food Summit, food security is defined when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

The four main dimensions of food security:

  • Physical availability: Food availability addresses the “supply side” of food security and is determined by the level of food production, stock levels and net trade.
  • Economic and physical access: An adequate supply of food at the national or international level does not in itself guarantee household level food security. Concerns about insufficient food access have resulted in a greater policy focus on incomes, expenditure, markets and prices in achieving food security objectives.
  • Food utilisation: Utilization is commonly understood as the way the body makes the most of various nutrients in the food. Sufficient energy and nutrient intake by individuals are the result of good care and feeding practices, food preparation, and diversity of the diet and intra-household distribution of food. Combined with good biological utilization of food consumed, this determines the nutritional status of individuals.
  • Stability: Inadequate access to food on a periodic basis, risking a deterioration of your nutritional status. Adverse weather conditions, political instability, or economic factors (unemployment, rising food prices) may have an impact on your food security status.

The Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) 2023 Midyear Update finds that while some countries have seen improvements in hunger and malnutrition in the first half of 2023, high levels of acute food insecurity remain worldwide. As in previous years, conflict, climate change, and economic shocks continue to be the main drivers of food crisis, with conflict playing the predominant role from January through August 2023. It has been witness that important setbacks in the open, international trade system that has driven prosperity around the world and lifted billions of people out of poverty in developing countries. Geopolitical tensions, on the heels of earlier trade wars accentuated by shocks such as the pandemic, disruptions in supply chains, and climate events are heightening the risk of economic fragmentation.

Domestic food price inflation remains high around the world. Information from the latest month between May and August 2023 for which food price inflation data are available shows high inflation in many low- and middle-income countries, with inflation higher than 5% in 52.6% of low-income countries, 86.4% of lower-middle-income countries, and 64% of upper-middle-income countries with many experiencing double-digit inflation. In addition, 69.6% of high-income countries are experiencing high food price inflation. The most-affected countries are in Africa, North America, Latin America, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia. In real terms, food price inflation exceeded overall inflation (measured as year-on-year change in the overall consumer price index) in 79.4% of the 165 countries for which food CPI and overall CPI indexes are both available. The agricultural and export price indices closed 1% and 2% lower, respectively, than two weeks ago; while the cereal price index closed 2% higher. Rice and wheat prices, which closed 6% and 2% higher, respectively, than two weeks ago, have driven the increase in the cereal price index. On a year-on-year basis, maize and wheat prices are 29% and 31% lower, respectively, although rice prices continue their rising trend and are currently 38% higher. Compared to January 2021, maize prices are 7% lower, wheat prices are 10% lower, while rice prices are 23% higher

The midpoint assessment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development underscores concerns regarding the achievement of food- and agriculture-related Sustainable Development Goals in the face of multiple crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and armed conflicts, which are threatening global progress in eradicating poverty, improving food security and nutrition, and enhancing health. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that between 691 million and 783 million people were hungry globally in 2022, effectively erasing progress made since 2015. In addition, food insecurity rose from 25.3% in 2019 to 29.6% in 2022, with severe food insecurity affecting 11.3% of the global population. This translates to 180 million more people facing severe food insecurity than in 2019. In 2022, 27.8% of women and 25.4% of men globally experienced moderate or severe food insecurity. Although there has been a slight narrowing of the global gender gap in food insecurity, the outlook remains poor.

There have been significant disturbances in trade in global food and agricultural markets, including India’s recent ban on rice exports and trade restrictions caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sparking concerns regarding food security, price unpredictability, and the ability of the global trade system to withstand such challenges. The global rice market has experienced significant turbulence since India, the world’s leading rice exporter, began implementing a series of export restrictions in July, including a ban on milled white rice exports, an export tax on parboiled rice, and the establishment of a minimum export price for basmati rice. India’s dominance as the lowest-priced white rice supplier, especially to Sub-Saharan Africa since 2020, has raised concerns about the potential impact of significantly higher rice prices on this import-dependent region. Trade restrictions have also disrupted the fertilizer industry over the past year. The invasion of Ukraine increased not only fertilizer prices, but also grain prices, reaching a peak in May 2022. Easing export restrictions and sanctions, along with the partial reopening of transit through the Black Sea, helped stabilize grain markets.

The new Global Report on Food Crises 2023 Mid-Year Update shows that 238 million people across 48 countries are facing acute food and nutrition insecurity. Nine countries experienced an increase in acute food insecurity since 2022. Sudan was particularly affected, with an increase of 8.6 million acutely food-insecure people (74%). Burundi and Somalia experienced an increase of 1 million people each, increasing the acutely food insecure population by 65% and 18%, respectively. There are three major drivers of food insecurity in 2023, including conflict, economic challenges, and climate-induced weather extremes.

In the 2023 Global Hunger Index (GHI), Pakistan ranks 102nd out of the 125 countries with sufficient data to calculate 2023 GHI scores. With a score of 26.6 in the 2023 Global Hunger Index, Pakistan has a level of hunger that is serious.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool for comprehensively measuring and tracking hunger at global, regional, and national levels. GHI scores are based on the values of four component indicators:

  • Undernourishment: the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake.
  • Child stunting: the share of children under age five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic under nutrition.
  • Child wasting: the share of children under age five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute under nutrition.
  • Child mortality: the share of children who die before their fifth birthday, partly reflecting the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments.

Based on the values of the four indicators, a GHI score is calculated on a 100-point scale reflecting the severity of hunger, where 0 is the best possible score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst. Each country’s GHI score is classified by severity, from low to extremely alarming. The fourth edition of the report, prepared in collaboration between German non-profit Welthungerhilfe and its Irish counterpart Concern Worldwide, is a peer-reviewed publication. According to the report, GHI projections show that at least 46 countries in the world, including Pakistan, will fail to achieve “low hunger” by 2030. Pakistan achieved a score of 26.1 for the 2022 report, worse than its 29.6 in the last edition of the report in 2014. The 2007 and 2000 reports showed Pakistan’s GHI score at 32.1 and 36.8 respectively.

South Asia has one the highest child stunting rates in the world, according to the GHI repor. The report, published in October last year, showed that Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the regions with the “highest hunger levels” and remain most vulnerable to future shocks and crises. South Asia, the region with the world’s highest hunger level, has the highest child stunting rate and by far the highest child wasting rate of any world region. Pakistan was singled out along with five other countries with increasing stunting rates in children. The areas with the least improvement over time where stunting levels either increased or stagnated were in central Chad, central Pakistan, central Afghanistan, and northeastern Angola, as well as throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar.

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The launch of the GHI report follows a United Nations report issued in May, which designated Pakistan as a “very high concern” area facing food insecurity. The UN report, jointly prepared by the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization, also painted a dire outlook for Pakistan, saying more than eight million people are expected to experience “high levels of acute food insecurity”. Pakistan has faced a tumultuous 18 months, in which a continuing political crisis has compounded the worst financial crisis the country has ever faced. Last year’s devastating floods left lasting damage to the economy, which suffered more than $30bn of total losses, with the agriculture sector alone enduring damage worth more than $100m. A mounting balance-of-payment crisis has led to depleted foreign reserves and the country currently owes its creditors more than $77bn, payable in the next three years, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Meanwhile, inflation has surged to a record high, touching 38 percent earlier this year, while energy tariffs have also increased due to demands made by the IMF. Pakistan, which is heavily reliant on imports to meet its domestic requirements, has also seen the value of its currency plummet by more than 50 percent against the US dollar in the past year. The country’s domestic wheat production has not achieved required targets and Pakistan has been forced to import at least 10 percent of its wheat for at least four years. It is highly unlikely that we will become domestically sufficient in wheat production in the next five years. On the other hand, the quality of Pakistani wheat was not a problem itself, the seeds used for production did not give a higher yield. We have very little research facilities and skills that could help develop better seeds which could give higher productivity. To ensure food security in Pakistan, there are several steps that can be taken. First and foremost, investment in agriculture is critical. The government can provide subsidies and other incentives for farmers to increase their crop yields and improve the quality of their crops. This can be done through research and development of new agricultural technologies, such as drought-resistant crops or improved irrigation methods. Additionally, the government can work to improve the infrastructure for transportation and storage of food, which can help reduce waste and improve access to food in remote areas.

Another important factor in food security is social protection programs. These programs, such as cash transfers or food subsidies, can help ensure that vulnerable populations have access to sufficient food. The government can also work to improve education and awareness about nutrition, so that individuals can make informed choices about their diets and improve their overall health.

Finally, addressing climate change is critical for food security in Pakistan. The country is already experiencing the effects of climate change, such as increased temperatures, droughts, and floods, which can have a significant impact on crop yields. By implementing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the changing climate, the country can help ensure that its citizens have access to sufficient and nutritious food for years to come.

In conclusion, food security is critical for national security in Pakistan. Without adequate access to food, the country risks social unrest, political instability, and economic decline. By investing in agriculture, improving infrastructure, providing social protection programmes, and addressing climate change, the government can work to ensure that all citizens have access to sufficient and nutritious food. This will not only improve the health and wellbeing of the population but will also contribute to the overall stability and prosperity of the country.

The author, Mr. Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance writer, columnist, blogger and motivational speaker. He writes articles on diversified topics. Mr. Shaikh can be contacted at