A RECENT FAO report on the global state of food and agriculture raises several concerns in Pakistan’s case. Focusing on the interplay between climate change, agriculture and food security, in line with trends elsewhere in the world, the report highlights the decline in protein consumption via lentils. Historically, agriculture has been a balancing act between human activities and natural resources. The situation in Pakistan with its agrarian background is no exception. Agricultural emissions contribute to climate change, thus for our region to eradicate the double burden of hunger and poverty we need to stabilise the global climate, by shifting our approach towards sustainable agriculture. This would require us, as citizens, to enable an environment which encourages the local production of beans and lentils by preferentially utilising them over meat and dairy as part of our dietary sources of protein. Chronic undernutrition is a major challenge in developing countries leading to high stunting rates amongst children of low-income households. A shift towards micronutrient deficiencies is seen as increasing household incomes impact food consumption patterns. Malnutrition has long-term negative implications for the economic development of a nation. In light of the high prevalence of malnutrition in Asia, it would be wise to remember that the nutritional value of lentils is high, and that they are also an essential source of vitamins, micronutrients and proteins as we strive to attain nutritional security.
The Pakistan Agricultural Research Council has committed to supplying 1,000 tons of mung, maash, masoor and gram seeds to farmers in southern Punjab, Balochistan and KP as part of a 10-year pulses development project. Although this means increasing production on marginalised land, the question is: what local conditions are required in these areas to facilitate the promotion of nutrition-specific agriculture? Other plans include a ‘buy back’ provision of Utility Stores Corporation to purchase mung, maash and masoor directly from farmers to discourage imports. However, major impediments on the food-supply side remain unaddressed. In light of Pakistan’s malnutrition being consistent with the type found in Asia, lending lentils an increased significance through nutrition-sensitive agricultural interventions is essential. Unfortunately, without identifying what the bottlenecks to consuming this nourishing food are, the nutritional as well as the market potential of lentils will remain underexploited. Without food production, food supply and food patterns being targeted together, we cannot attempt to end hunger and poverty as per the SDGs.
Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2018