THE federal cabinet has approved the national food security policy, and the Ministry of National Food Security and Research is now initiating the process for its implementation and preparation of an action plan.

While disclosing this at a recent meeting of a National Assembly standing committee, the senior most official of the ministry also highlighted some key features of the policy.

The policy acknowledges food security as the first and foremost element of national security. According to the food ministry’s secretary, its main objective is to ensure a modern and efficient food production and distribution system that can best contribute towards food security and nutrition in terms of availability, access, utilisation and stability.

He further said that more specific objectives of the policy are alleviating poverty, eradicating hunger and malnutrition, promoting sustainable food production systems and making agriculture more productive, profitable, climate-resilient and competitive.

The policy will focus on increasing farmers’ access to quality inputs like seeds, fertilisers and agricultural machinery, he said, adding that the policy also includes plans to address emergencies and disaster management.

Just like in everything else these days, many people find an element of surprise in the approval of this important policy as it has come towards the fag end of the PML-N government. They fear that implementing the policy and creating an action plan for this purpose may consume another few weeks, throwing the ball in the court of the caretaker government.

In an ideal scenario, the caretakers would be focused on holding elections and would find little time for such a long-term policy. However, the newly elected government may backtrack from or restructure some essentials of the policy rest.

Implementing the food security policy requires harmony among provincial and federal authorities, something which is visibly very low ahead of elections and amid growing intervention of non-political forces in the political administration.

Implementing the food security policy requires harmony among provincial and federal authorities, something which seems to missing ahead of elections and amid growing intervention of non-political forces in the political administration

Furthermore, smaller provinces are fearful and sceptical. Who knows how the process of implementing the policy is moving? Who is calling the shots?

From where additional input into policy has come in? “We are yet to get clear answers to these questions,” laments a senior Sindh government official.

“Lots of things might have happened behind the doors and might still be happening. Let’s see what’s in store for the future.”

While implementing the food security policy, two issues are critical and politically sensitive. One relates to CPEC agricultural development zones and the second relates to land and water resource management, senior officials in Sindh and Balochistan agriculture departments tell Dawn on condition of anonymity. Originally, one of the requirements of food security policy was formulation of a long-term national plan for ensuring judicious distribution and efficient use of water across the country. That is going to become a big challenge as implementation.

Similarly, any decision regarding the creation of CPEC agricultural development zones for mutual benefit of Pakistan and China is bound to kick up huge controversies. And, these controversies may not remain limited to an interprovincial race for hosting such zones to get maximum benefits.

Officials of smaller provinces fear growing intervention of what they call non-political forces in this element of food security policy after the installation of a caretaker government next month. “But again this is just our apprehension and may hopefully turn out to be nothing more,” one of these officials admits.

The food security policy recognises four basic determinants of food security: food availability, food accessibility (both physical and economic), food utilisation and food stability. In each area, multiple issues exist and more issues might keep coming up as the implementation of the policy begins.

To ensure the availability and accessibility of food, there is a need to boost per-acre yields of food crops alongside increasing the mass of arable land, improving supply and storage infrastructure and rationalising the entire support price regime.

For boosting the yields, there is a need for modernising agriculture and ensuring constant flow of investment in agricultural research and development. That requires a massive push towards public-private partnership and foreign funding collaborations in addition to finding fiscal space both at federal and provincial levels.

“It is difficult to predict how soon this can happen but policymakers at both federal and provincial levels know how to address these and other issues,” says a senior official of the food ministry while advising that “media should stay positive”.

For promoting research and innovation, the newly approved food security policy suggests the creation of agriculture research boards in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan with technical assistance from federal institutions. In Punjab, the agriculture research board is already operational.

As the implementation of the policy begins, a certain clause of it will make it mandatory for federal and provincial authorities to readjust all other relevant policies to achieve food security, officials of Sindh agriculture department say.

So, one can expect that at federal and provincial levels budgeting for agriculture will improve and a certain percentage of their respective development plans — a minimum of 10pc according to original plans — will necessarily go to the agriculture sector.

In Pakistan, food availability (determined by production, stocks and net food trade) is not that bad. The problem area is unequal distributions across provinces and districts. Food security policy can really deliver if federal and provincial authorities recognise the root causes of distribution discrepancies and start taking corrective measures.

Livestock constitutes more than half of the agricultural economy, and one thorny issue in implementing food security policy is striking the right balance between promoting livestock without disturbing the crop sector.

Ensuring improved health and population of domestic animals is a must for sustainable dairy and meat supplies for our growing population and exports. To achieve that, it is necessary to find innovative and sustainable ways for feeding animals.

This requires growing more and better fodder crops, without allowing shrinkage in the area under cultivation of major and minor food crops, and developing composite animal feeds of high quality.

The Buffalo Breeders Association of Punjab has recently demanded 100pc import duty on dry milk powder to save local milk producing industry. One can imagine a slew of demands coming up from other sub-sectors of agriculture and livestock when the implementation of the food security policy goes into full gear.

Are federal and provincial governments prepared to tackle such conflicts of interests without compromising on the spirit of food security policy? Only time will tell.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, April 16th, 2018


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