A global food crisis is brewing

Published March 29, 2021
Food security is determined by the availability of sufficient food supplies and citizen’s ability to access it.
Food security is determined by the availability of sufficient food supplies and citizen’s ability to access it.

There is no way for Pakistan to insulate from consequences if famine strikes Afghanistan, a neighbouring country with which it shares a long porous border. Currently, Pakistan itself is struggling with a fragile economic recovery and Covid-induced alarmingly high poverty and unemployment rates.

The relevant authorities, at both tiers of the government, acknowledge the need to collectively assess the critical issue of food security within the country, as well as in the region, and devise a strategy to deal with the problem highlighted for Afghanistan in a fashion that its own food security is not compromised.

Food security is determined by the availability of sufficient food supplies and citizen’s ability to access it.

Talking to Dawn, Federal Minister of National Food Security and Research (MNFSR) Syed Fakhar Imam said “our wheat production this year is predicted to be 26.25 million tonnes. This will be one million tonnes more than last year. Our yearly requirement is approximately 29m tonnes, therefore 3m tonnes will be imported while a million tonnes will be kept in reserve. Imports of 300,000 tonnes have been ordered for purchase in August 2021, when prices will be lower than normal.

“We are very closely monitoring key crops, devising policies and planning interventions to ensure uninterrupted supply of basic food items at affordable prices in the country,” added Gufran Memon, federal secretary of the MNFSR who was confident regarding the preparedness of the government to ensure a sufficient supply of staples for the entire population.Sharing details about the wheat crop, he told Dawn that Rs1,800 support price will support and incentivise the farming community to improve the productivity and production of the vital crop.

A bigger wheat harvest is expected in Pakistan with production hopefully at 26MMT, one million metric tonnes higher than last year. While consumption can rise to 29MMT, 3m tonnes can be imported if needed and there is a million tonnes in buffer stock available to check market manipulation

Market watchers blame the smuggling of wheat and other food crops to Afghanistan among other factors for the wheat and sugar crisis last year. Mr Memon said the cheaper than global market price encourages traders to capitalise on the price differential by illegally exporting banned items. “From what I know, border surveillance has improved and by offering high support price we brought local selling price at par with global price discouraging marketers to abuse the situation”.

He said the focus of his ministry is to remove bottlenecks in the food supply chain and invest in logistic services to check wastages of precious crops.

Sindh’s Minister for Agriculture, Supply and Prices Muhammad Ismail Rahu was concerned about the risk increasing food shortages in Afghanistan poses for Pakistan. “We can ignore the report at our own peril. We must be vigilant in monitoring the market and crop movement to keep the country food secure”. In his opinion, the federal government should step up cooperation and coordination with provincial departments for better outcomes.

A report released last week by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Food Programme (WFP) assessed the food supply outlook of March to July 2021 and identified 20 hunger hotspots. See map.

The statement shared on the FAO site states: “Acute hunger is set to soar in over 20 countries in the coming months without urgent and scaled-up assistance, warns a new report. Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria top the list and face catastrophic levels of acute hunger, with families in pockets of South Sudan and Yemen already in the grip of or at risk of starvation and death according to the Hunger Hotspots report”. It reports that over 34m people are already ‘one step away from starvation, across the world’.

FAO Director General QU Dongyu calls ‘to act now and to act fast to save lives, safeguard livelihoods and prevent the worst situation”.

“We are seeing a catastrophe unfold before our very eyes. Famine — driven by conflict and fuelled by climate shocks and the Covid-19 — is knocking on the door for millions of families,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.

The report identified conflict, Covid-19, climate extremes, locust outbreaks and affordability as factors behind the projected rise in acute food insecurity in the next three months.

The global food security watchers in the report recommend immediate actions in each hunger hotspot to minimise risks to lives and future needs.

“These range from scaling up food and nutrition assistance, distributing drought-tolerant seeds, treating and vaccinating livestock to rolling out cash-for-work schemes, rehabilitating water-harvesting structures and increasing income opportunities for vulnerable communities”.

FAO and WFP called for $5.5 billion assistance for food assistance, cash transfers to vulnerable population and government interventions to prevent famine. —AS

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, March 29th, 2021

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