THERE is an inherent bond between fuel prices and agricultural production: higher oil prices lower the affordability of energy in agricultural production and supply, which, in turn, increases the price of food commodities.
It’s a common global phenomenon that whenever oil and fuel prices increase, GDP growth rates decline and inflation increases, affecting the purchasing power of household commodities, transportation, agriculture, industry, buying of raw material for manufacturing industries, etc.
Understandably, the umbrella food and agricultural production industry takes a hit, as it has in Pakistan under the prevailing circumstances, since fossil fuels are widely used in machinery and equipment employed in agricultural fields, manufacturing of fertiliser, irrigation, fishing, livestock, and forestry among other sectors.
Moreover, secondary food production industries are also dependent on fossil fuels for their energy needs, similarly affected by oil market volatility. In this context, the obvious answer to all these problems lies in moving away from fossil fuels and diversifying the sources of energy production to include more renewables, to enhance self-sufficiency for the country’s energy demands.
More than 90m people in Pakistan are going hungry.
Asia’s expensive agricultural economy comprises two-thirds of the global agriculture sector. Pakistan too is dependent on agricultural production, which contributes to up to a fifth of the total GDP. In this context, the current energy and fuel crisis, along with crop disease and gradual climatic and topographical changes, has been a double whammy for the agricultural sector. Along with the increase in fuel rates, the prices of fertilisers and the cost of locally assembled tractors have also gone through the roof, rendering many small-scale farmers unable to even afford sowing edible staples for their own use.
This is happening at a time when more than 90 million people in Pakistan are already going hungry. According to the International Food Security Assessment, 2021-31, more than 38 per cent of Pakistan’s population is food-insecure. However, along with food insecurity, nutritional insecurity, too, should be a matter of great concern to policymakers. In developing countries like Pakistan, poverty is often the main cause of malnutrition. Under the present economic conditions, and other factors such as the increase in prices of electricity and other common commodities, the public’s purchasing power has been further reduced.
As if to rub salt in the wound, the World Bank’s Commodity Markets Outlook April 2022 predicts that inflation will persist globally for the next three years due to high fuel, food and fertiliser prices. It is apparent that volatility in the fossil fuel market is of direct harm to energy production and food security, unless some renewable resources are put to use. An example of this can be found in the US, where researchers observed that between 2002 and 2011 the increased cost of importing crude oil also jacked up the price of locally produced corn.
Moving away from fossil fuels and finding new renewable alternatives for energy production is the need of the hour as our survival depends on it, literally and existentially. Pakistan’s frail and fragile economy and ecosystems cannot bear the burden of importing expensive fossil fuels and incurring further damage to the national exchequer and the dying ecosystems of the country. Replacements can be found in biodiesel, made from vegetable oil, animal fat or recycled restaurant grease, which reduces carbon emissions by more than 75pc. Further alternatives can also be found, besides the existing renewables of wind, solar and hydropower, while investing in energy-efficient or electric vehicles for agricultural needs can also ease oil dependency and vulnerability to future volatility in the oil market.
In this regard, the country’s energy policies also need to be revamped, to implement energy-efficient policies that reduce the carbon footprint of our agricultural sector along with our dependency on fossil fuels. The government should deliver direct and indirect subsidies to consumers who choose renewable energy in various sectors while also launching aggressive campaigns of converting official business to renewables.
Meanwhile, a multisectoral strategic assessment is also required for developing renewable energy manufacturing capabilities and expanding financial support in this area. Hence, moving away from fossil fuels is critical to laying down the infrastructural foundations of food security and planetary protection. As long as we keep relying on fossil fuels, millions of people across Pakistan and the rest of the world will keep on going hungry.
The writer is editor of Scientific Investigation and Global Network of Scientists.
Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2022