ON paper, the new food security policy announced by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, two days before the end of its third term in power, appears to be a comprehensive document that seeks to address the causes of widespread food insecurity in the country through policy interventions and public investment.
The policy seeks to build a diversified, profitable and stable agriculture market, address climate change, target poverty, and educate people on nutrition to secure freedom from hunger.
The paper also commits the government to providing money to support policy interventions where necessary for creating an efficient, sustainable system of food production and distribution to eradicate hunger and malnutrition.
“Unless the new government shows its commitment to achieve food security and implements the policy, we will continue to be ranked at the bottom of every survey or index measuring hunger in the world,” says Dr Zia
In spite of significant progress in food production over time, the document admits that food security remains a key challenge because of ‘rapid population growth, urbanisation, low purchasing power, high price fluctuations, erratic food production and inefficient food distribution system’.
According to the World Food Programme, Pakistan ranks 77th out of 109 on the Global Food Security Index and six out of 10 Pakistanis are food insecure despite sufficient food production to feed all.
“In countries like Pakistan, access to affordable, healthy and safe food is a bigger issue than its availability. Almost every study conducted to gauge the level of food insecurity in Pakistan has underscored the fact that poverty bars majority of the people from accessing healthy food and required calories,” argues Dr Shahid Zia, an economist.
“A large portion of our population does not have access to food because of poverty. Even low to middle-income households find it difficult to spare enough for safe and nutritious food because of their increasing expenditures on house rent, education, health, transport and so on.
“Little wonder then that we have a large malnourished or undernourished population, particularly women and children, in the country,” he adds.
Food insecurity is more widespread in poorer regions of the country. An Integrated Context Analysis study on vulnerability to food insecurity and natural hazards carried out jointly by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the National Disaster Management Authority has identified the country’s 42 districts out of 156 as being highly vulnerable to food insecurity.
According to the study, out of these 42 districts, 19 are in Balochistan, 13 in Sindh, seven in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and three in Punjab.
Dr Zia contends that the findings of the survey only corroborates the fact that successive governments have utterly failed people living in underdeveloped regions and districts because of political considerations.
“In the last couple of decades, we have seen a steep rise in regional disparities because public investments are more focused on development of larger cities that are politically important for the rulers, both elected and military.”
Last year, a Global Hunger Index (GHI) report found thatPakistanis facing a serious hunger problem as more than a fifth of the total population remains undernourished. One of the most affected countries by disaster and climate change in the world, Pakistan has the second highest hunger score (32.6) in all of Asia after Afghanistan.
The report ranks Pakistan in the ‘serious’ category at 106th place out of 119 countries. Poor nutrition is responsible for stunting among 45pc children under five, up from 40.3pc during 2006 to 2010 and above one child out of every 10 is suffering from wasting or low weight for their height. Though child mortality rate has come down, it remains as high as 8.1pc.
“Unless the new government that comes into power after the July elections shows its commitment to achieve food security for our future generations and implements the policy, we will continue to be ranked at the bottom of every survey or index measuring hunger in the world,” Dr Zia concludes.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, June 4th, 2018