FOR the third consecutive year, the Global Hunger Index, prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute has categorised Pakistan as a state facing ‘serious’ threat to food security.

It is not only international organisations that had been firing such warning shots, but studies by some domestic institutions had also been reaching the same conclusion. One such study by the Institute of Public Policy of the Beaconhouse National University had also projected the figure of 79.08 million dropping below the poverty line by 2011-12 — or 43.01 per cent of population. This is up from 61.84 million in 2008-09, which then formed 36.11 per cent.

All these institutes are basing their conclusions on the sliding production food grains in the country. The figures, as mentioned recently by AgriForum Pakistan, show that average wheat availability per person per annum has dropped from 206 kilogramme in 2008 to 191 kilogramme in 2012. In 2008, Pakistan produced 37 million tons of total grains — wheat, rice, maize, barley, millet and sorghum. In 2012, they have dropped to 34 million tons. During this period, more people have been added to the tally — making the food equation more skewed and pushing a few more million down the poverty and hunger line. One hopes that governments, both federal and provincial, wake up to the situation and start planning before Pakistan falls in next category, which is “alarming” hunger threat.

In Pakistan, the successive governments have linked food security to wheat availability alone and even failing there. In the last four years, the federal government had been setting a target of 25 million tons. But it has not been able to achieve it, though it got closer to the figure once but fell short for the rest three years. This is a crop where the entire official focus has been riveted.

For less fortunate crops, despite being equally important for food security, the situation has been disastrous. Pulses, being the poor man’s diet, are one example. With total requirement of one million tons, Pakistan has produced less than 400,000 tons this year, or less than 40 per cent of total national requirement.

With the food import bill already getting closer to Rs500 billion, the addition of pulses would be unbearable burden for cash starved country.

The slide in production of all kinds of pulses has been progressive, without anyone taking the notice, and now assuming disastrous proportion. Of pulses, gram meets 90 per cent of the national demand. In the last four years, its production has dropped to one-third in the Punjab — producer of 90 per cent of the crop.

In 2007-08, Punjab produced 473,000 tons at per acre average of 5.53 maunds. In 2008-09, it went up to 658,000 tons at an average of 7.36 maunds per acre. In 2009-10, the total production was 488,000 tons with an average of 5.47 maunds per acre. In 2010-11, it slided to 429,000 tons with per acre average of 4.82 maunds. In 2011-12, it has come down to an unbelievable 224,000 tons, with per acre yield of 2.65 maunds.

Similar has been the case with the entire range of pulses. In the last four years, moong production had progressively come down from 140,000 tons in 2008-09 to 100,000 tons in 2009-10, to 60,000 tons in 2010-11 to 47,000 tons this year.

Mash, which stood at 9,000 in 2007-08, has dropped down to a half this year with total production being 4,500 tons.

The crisis with pulses is they are considered to be barrani (rain-fed) areas crops. The area and its potential has seldom been on the policy radar of the provincial government because of water uncertainty in the area. Pulses thus have become ignored crops of an ignored area.

There is absolutely no policy for these crops; no effort to increase usage of certified seed, no effort to regulate water supplies, no buyback arrangements, no effort to develop deep rooted seeds that survive on less water and so on.

Another problem with pulses is that all of them have differing watering and temperatures needs and also conflict with other crops (especially wheat) in the area. If it rains heavily, chances of wheat brighten but lentil is ruined. If it does not rain, both of them suffer. The lentil crop maturity is not uniform , at least with the seeds being used currently. If 30 per cent crop matures early, farmers have to harvest. They have to either pick pods from individual plants or risk destroying the entire one if they go for mechanised harvesting.

In the absence of such policy and effort, individuals indulge in blame game as is being  done in Punjab. No one is realising , there has to be a policy, enabling production environment and clear target setting. Only then individuals can be held responsible for success or failure.

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