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In quest of food security

May 09, 2016


A COMMISSION set up two years ago to address the food security issues has never met.

Officials of the Ministry of Food Security stated last month that several letters to the prime minister’s secretariat and its chairman had been written for making the commission functional but with no positive response.

The commission, whose formation was announced in the 2014-15 budget, was to prepare an agenda for providing long-term food security to the vulnerable sections of the population and for agriculture development with consensus of the federal and provincial governments on the key issues that divide them.

According to a senior ministry official, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat has been reminded without any success to fix a meeting of the commission.

In the light of recommendations of national food security conference in March 2012, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Food Security set up a sub-committee in December 2012 to prepare a draft of the national food security policy which it did in 2013.

But it turned out to be a non-starter because of poor coordination between the federal food security ministry and provincial governments.

The Food Security Commission was set up in December 2014 with five key mandates, the first one being forging of consensus between the federal and provincial governments on a long-term food security policy.

During this lapsed period, there had been little mention of the commission and more stress was on food security policy of 2013. Even this ‘policy’ was described differently by different persons.

While President Mamnoon Hussain had, at a function in Islamabad on April 22, 2014, described the policy as ‘national food and nutrition security policy’, the federal minister for food security had called it as ‘national food security policy’ on Nov 21, 2015 and afterwards on several occasions.

And a common message in their statements was that the policy was being finalised and would soon be announced once there is a consensus between the federal and provincial governments. The consensus was difficult to emerge as some provinces had already embarked on preparing their own food security policy.

The original draft posted on the website on Jan 11, 2013 describes it as ‘agriculture and food security policy’ which is a significant departure from the earlier stance

The original draft posted on the website on Jan 11, 2013 describes the policy as ‘agriculture and food security policy’ which is a significant departure from the earlier stance. Rajab Ali Khan Baloch, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of National Food Security and Research, was recently quoted to have said that “the policy draft being discussed at various levels is the agriculture policy and food security and nutrition is one of its components and it is not all about food security.”

He does not agree with the view that the implementation of the policy has been delayed. He says, “We have held seminars and workshops to make it a comprehensive policy because it is going to be a lifetime policy. After that is done, the policy document will be presented in the National Assembly for clearance.”

According g to a research article published by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, there are two major policy failures: hasty withdrawal of the state from the agriculture sector under the structural adjustment programme and lack of focus on the setting up of an essential institutional infrastructure.

This has led to reduced investment in research and development by the national governments of the developing countries like Pakistan while international donor agencies also have withdrawn their support.

In a policy review, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute says the policy draft comprehensively summarises the agriculture status and presents different options for the development of agriculture sector but is silent on many issues related to food security; rather its primary focus is on agriculture development.

The draft sets out a vision and goal for agriculture and food security, along with a set of policy directions and claims that this would help the provinces to articulate their own polices and strategies.

Although some provinces have started work on their own policies, strategies and investment plans, they still, the draft says, need ‘an overall national vision and direction for agricultural development to ensure that synergies are maximised and overlaps are minimised’.

The 23-page draft, which aims at reducing poverty and food insecurity by 50pc by 2030 and 100pc by 2050, was prepared by the PPP-led government. However, the PML-N government did not make any tangible efforts to implement it. It simply put the draft on the back burner.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, May 9th, 2016