PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan has ordered the food security ministry and the provinces to take measures for improving the accuracy of the agriculture supply chain data being collated by them. As part of his government’s economic diplomacy initiative, he also directed the ministry to develop a food security dashboard for transmission of dependable information to all stakeholders in a transparent manner. The decision to improve the accuracy of agriculture data and develop the dashboard underscores the importance of reliable information collection for informed planning and policymaking. The ministry has been directed to take measures for gathering correct information related to production, consumption, waste, imports and exports of different agricultural commodities so that the government can ascertain the demand and supply situation for addressing food security challenges under the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Emergency Programme.
The importance of data accuracy for setting agriculture policies and predicting accurate future demand and supply cannot be overstated. At the same time, the availability of reliable information helps improve the governance of supply chains, exposes market manipulators, controls smuggling of food and sudden spikes in its price, and predicts market conditions for import and export regarding a particular product or commodity to prevent shortages in the domestic market or losses to farmers, especially smallholders. The reasons for the recent recurrence of sugar and wheat shortages — and the resulting increase in price — can be traced to the absence of a reliable production and consumption record of the two commodities that limited the government’s ability to correctly assess the situation and make timely decisions. There have been numerous instances where data-collecting departments and agencies reported incorrect production and consumption figures of major crops and horticulture products at the expense of growers and consumers.
Reliable data collection, especially in the agriculture sector, has never been a strong point of the relevant authorities. The basic information collected from the field is mostly extrapolated and is of poor quality. More important, it does not capture the entire supply chain or the smaller commodities and horticulture products. Also, the information is scattered at various levels of government, which means it cannot be used for analysing the exact supply situation, planning and policymaking. This is in spite of the availability of new, cheaper information-gathering tools, and modern satellite and mobile technology. The development of the proposed dashboard is expected to take care of data fragmentation. Yet for improving its accuracy, the government will have to encourage the use of technology at all levels. It will also need to ensure that the dashboard carries information on water availability for different crops, climate data and analyses of global markets to give a complete picture to stakeholders. This kind of data is not only required to predict the domestic market correctly but also to integrate our agriculture sector into the global supply chain.
Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2020