ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a webinar on food security and agriculture promotion through cross-border trade have emphasised the need for seamless cross-border trade with relaxed regulatory regimes to help overcome food security challenges in Asia.

Cross-border trade is important for Pakistan to address food security challenges amid climate change, while on the other hand, the Asian region has tremendous cross-border trade potential capable of offseting the food security crisis, observed the speakers at the webinar organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), titled “Innovation for Food Security and Regional Trade for Agriculture Promotion,” held in Islamabad on Friday.

In his opening remarks, James McNee, First Secretary, Canadian Embassy in Pakistan, said Canada has a long history of exporting grains, canola, and other agricultural products to Pakistan; however, the country needs the political will to modify legislation on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to transform its existing agricultural production.

The Canadian envoy underscored that linkages have been established between grain institutes in Canada and Punjab province to further study the GMOs that are being raised in Canada for their suitability to the soil of this region.

“There is a need to develop sustainable agricultural solutions by Pakistan that address food security and climate change on priority. Canada has food security on its priority. Recently, I witnessed the 2022 floods devastation that washed away standing crops inundating acres of cultivated land in Punjab and other provinces,” he added.

SDPI Joint Executive Director, Dr Vaqar Ahmed, said in his remarks that affordability is linked to many people in Asia who are unable to afford a daily healthy diet, whereas food price inflation is also contributing to their health as well. Food security is an international issue where 9.2 percent of the world population is facing hunger and malnourishment with 55 percent of that number existing in the Asia region alone, he said.

The SDPI official mentioned that the country has legislation on all the sectors, ranging from national food security policy to water policy and the 5Es framework of the planning commission that also addresses water and agriculture, but the major issue is implementation.

Senior Advisor of the International Trade Centre (ITC), Pierre Bonthonneau, said the ITC is working on improving the countries’ capacities to indulge in healthy international trade. The issues of food security and cross-border trade are very closely interconnected, whereas the trade of agricultural goods is the livelihood of millions of workers, he said.

Pierre Bonthonneau claimed that cross-border trade in the prevailing times required digitization and cutting-edge solutions that ensured well-regulated and uniform cross-border trade to ensure food security and healthy trade.

CEO of a private sector farm, Ayma Hayat Tamman, said climate change has been having serious impacts on the agricultural sector as it is directly impacting crop yields and cultivation lands.

Prof. Dr Bushra Yasmin of Fatima Jinnah Women University said the availability, accessibility, and affordability of healthy food commodities to live a healthy life define the concept of food security and are essential to achieving the goal of enhancing food security.

Economic Consultant, Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Dr Haroon Sarwar, said food security is the outcome of the agriculture sector, and the latter is facing a lot of challenges in Pakistan.

Dr Sarwar noted that lack of farmers’ access to credit is also an issue, whereas formal collateral-free credit, a profitable seed price, and quality fertiliser can ensure the proper availability of food at affordable prices.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2023

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