Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday termed food security as one of the biggest challenges being faced by Pakistan, saying the country must take steps now to protect its population in the future from food shortages.
Addressing a farmers' convention in Islamabad, the premier noted that Pakistan imported four million tonnes of wheat last year, which dented the country's foreign exchange reserves at a time of a shortage of dollars.
"Pakistan has new challenges and the biggest challenge is food security," he said, adding that preparation needed to be done now about how Pakistan will produce crops for its fast-increasing population in the next 5-15 years.
He noted that around 40 per cent children in the country did not reach their full height nor did their brain develop fully because they did not receive enough nutrition.
"Food security is actually national security," he emphasised, saying the government in order to address the issue of stunting was bringing a nutrition programme through Ehsaas for the first time.
The prime minister pointed out that availability of pure milk was also a major issue related to the growth of children. He said initial investigations carried out after he had been alerted to the issue had pointed out contamination and dodgy practices such as counterfeit milk production.
He lamented that children were not receiving the most basic thing needed for their growth in its pure form, saying restrictions to control such issues had led to price increases and that showed Pakistan's milk production lagged behind other countries. The premier said a simple solution to this was to import good quality bull semen from abroad which could improve the genes of local cattle.
Imran also termed "elite capture" as a major problem for Pakistan.
He said: "The country wasn't made for everyone [and] a small segment captured all resources and no one tried to change it."
Pointing out disparities in education, justice and more, the premier said no one in the past had thought about the common man or the weak segments. "The same happened in our agriculture. Most of our farmers have small land holdings," he said, adding that they couldn't afford good quality seeds unless they were helped.
"So everywhere the system left the weak person behind and the first thing a government in a society with humanity does is to pay attention to the weak segments."
Citing China's example and how it had managed to raise people out of poverty, Prime Minister Imran reiterated that if the country remained as it was, then food security would become an issue of national security.
"If any nation can't really provide a proper diet to its people then it can never move forward. If 15-40pc of your population is of hungry people then they will bring that nation down and they should. The nation which can't provide a proper diet to its people should be punished," he said.
He also pointed to Israel and how it had successfully managed to cultivate a desert environment and take it to new heights.
The prime minister said the government now intended to not only help farmers but also facilitate them through research and guidance on seed development and which crop would be best suited for an area. He added that agriculture techniques from China would be brought over under the ambit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor since agriculture had also now been included in the project.
He mentioned a number of measures in this regard such as interest-free loans, direct subsidies through the Kisan Card, training for small-scale farmers, cultivation of idle land, zoning, interactions with farmers associations and better transport and storage facilities.
"Our effort is that the more we keep our farmers prosperous, the more [agricultural] productivity will increase," the premier said, adding that new techniques and technology would also contribute to increasing farmers' prosperity and productivity.
"It is my belief that God made this country for a special reason. It will have a great rank in the world and this nation will become an example for the world which it should've been when Pakistan was founded."