Food insecurity

Published May 28, 2021

THE increase in the numbers of food-insecure people in this country speaks much louder than official claims of economic growth. According to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement, 16.4 out of every 100 households surveyed during the fiscal year 2019-2020 reported moderate to severe food insecurity. The number was slightly higher than the 15.9pc food-insecure households a year before. Apparently, the latest PSLM was carried out by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics before the country went into lockdown for a few months towards the end of March 2020 to halt the spread of Covid-19. Or the findings could have been more dismal. Thus, it is safe to assume that the survey is reflecting only the impacts of job losses, income reduction and IMF-mandated economic stabilisation policies on the lives of the poor and marginalised communities across the rural-urban and provincial divides. However, the fact that almost 30pc of Balochistan’s population had reported food insecurity underlines the effects of climate change on agriculture and different food security levels in different regions. There is no doubt that intermittent periods of drought over several years have not only pushed up poverty levels in various regions of Balochistan but have also increased the size of the food-insecure population.

Food insecurity is not just about food shortage in the market. It also signifies the absence of sufficient money to buy food, let alone nutritious, wholesome food. It’s not surprising that the high food inflation experienced during the last two years has played a major role in increasing the numbers of the food-insecure population. The survey mostly gives only a sketchy picture of the situation without listing details about or profiling food-insecure households and individuals. Yet we know from anecdotal evidence that food insecurity does not affect all members of a family or household equally; women and children are more prone to suffer hunger than adult male relatives. It is also seen that those living in poorer districts, regions or neighbourhoods face greater food insecurity for longer periods than others. That also explains the increasing migration of the rural labour force to cities and peri-urban areas for better incomes.

The issue is connected to not just economic growth and agricultural performance but also the growing regional economic and development gap, which has increased gender inequalities in the access to education, health, public facilities, and generally equal opportunities in life. Indeed, it is important to grow the economy for creating jobs and bridging income gaps so that the maximum number of people can access healthy food. But the kind of growth our economic and financial policies produce have only widened social and economic inequalities and increased the food-insecure numbers. With the budget around the corner, there is an opportunity for the government to tweak its policies for slightly more equitable economic growth and wealth distribution.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2021

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