IN SPITE of the significant progress Pakistan has made in food production over the last 60 years, the majority of the population still faces uncertainty in food security on a daily basis.
Over one third of the population suffers from chronic hunger; A significant proportion of the undernourished population has reached a peak of 36 per cent, With 95,000 just children. 48.6 per cent of Pakistan’s 165 million people are deemed to be “food insecure”, the figure being much higher in the conflict-ridden Fata (67.7 per cent) and Balochistan (61.2 per cent) — placing Pakistan at NO-11 on the index of food stressed countries, which indicates, “extreme risk”.
As a concept, food security is said to exist when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their basic dietary needs. It is a complex phenomenon that is attributable to a range of factors that vary across regions: availability, accessibility, and affordability, all three factors in which Pakistan seems to be lagging in at present, to become a food secured nation.
The problem of availability of food in Pakistan is mainly due to difficulties in production and productivity of its agriculture industry. The country has been on a good track of development, but since 2003 the food insecurity has deteriorated due to natural calamities, global food price increases, militancy, and loss of land to residential and industrial development.
Further impediments such as inadequate water supplies, nutrient-deficient cultivable land, outdated farming methods and absence of crop rotation, added to the limitations in the general supply of food available to the local population.
Given the supply constraints the question is, whether or not Pakistan can attain self-sufficiency in its supply of food?
After all, the failure on agriculture supply is unpardonable, mainly because the country is blessed with all the natural assets needed to ensure food for all — land, water and weather. And yet it faces “extreme food risk”.
The issue, however, is not simply that Pakistan is going to have food shortage, as sufficient production is possible with the right management and planning, but the real issue is affordability. Of food.
With food inflation up by 18 per cent in the last financial year, many people find it difficult to have access to food because of their lowering purchasing power.
Across Pakistan, the majority of the hard-earned monthly incomes are spent mainly on food Purchases. Approximately 50 per cent of total consumption is food-based as compared to the 17 per cent in the US. .
Unfortunately, the food security issue is not exclusively a matter of the availability, accessibility and affordability of agriculture. At the core of all the issues associated with fuelling Pakistan’s backbone industry lies in the absence of efficient management and well-planned policies.
The need to better agriculture production and productivity through the creation of a crop insurance system, a reservoir irrigation system, technology-based cultivation methods and strong fertilisers, to name a few solutions, can only be done with proper policy and efficiency.
The government takes decisions in the name of consumers but in fact, l it is the ruling elite, with their vested financial interests and large acres of land, and the traders who benefit as a result of distorted food distribution system.
Pakistan is one of the top producers of milk, rice and wheat, but the combination of low productivity, low preference and deep politicisation keep the population starved. In the immediate future, the situation may get desperate, but in the long-run, when available resources are adequately utilised and consistent policies adopted, it may be changed for better.
But until such management is achieved, perhaps one should shed light on article 38(d) of the Constitution of Pakistan, which ensures that “The state shall provide basic necessities of life, such as food... for all citizens”.
Perhaps it is high time the state wakes up to its responsibility in order to avoid the impending disaster.