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A deceitful reality

January 26, 2013

Amin Ahmed reports on the government's claim that the country is not food deficient.

The government claims that Pakistan is no more a food deficient country and has achieved food autarky. The government is currently devising a strategy to make several social safety nets to enhance the purchasing power of the poorest of the poor, says Ahmed Baksh Lehri, federal secretary of the ministry of national food security and research.

A ‘National Zero Hunger Plan’ is being worked out to combat food insecurity and hunger. “We have started an elaborate plan including implementation mechanism to achieve the objective. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Brazilian government are assisting Pakistan to finalise the ‘Zero Hunger Plan’.

Inspired by Brazilian and Indonesian ‘Zero Hunger’ programmes, Pakistan’s zero hunger programme is a five-year plan which would reach 61 million food insecure people across the country at a cost of $16 billion; 12 million people — 20 per cent of the total affected population — in its first year, at a cost of $1.6 billion.

As to why Pakistan has not been able to feed its population despite being an agricultural country, Lehri explains that “the main reason was too much emphasis on production of cotton for export purpose as well as use of conventional and traditional methods of agriculture”.

He states that wheat being the main staple food of Pakistan always remained under pressure because of shortage in production and non-availability of sufficient foreign exchange for imports. Food availability through imports always had political consequences, e.g. wheat import from the US under PL-480 has been used to twist our arms whenever needed.

During the last four to five years there has been much emphasis on growing wheat and other food commodities. The growers were given incentives such as attractive support price; for ensuring proper marketing facilities to growers, the state-owned PASSCO and provincial food departments procured wheat more than the required strategic reserves; to import more fertiliser and subsidise the imported fertiliser. Checking the use of substandard pesticides also helped to increase food production. Due to these measures the country has surplus wheat and is now a net exporter of wheat, adds Lehri.

Kevin Gallagher, FAO representative in Pakistan, is of the opinion that Pakistan generates considerable food — fibre, meat, dairy and other products — and even a major exporter of kinnoo and rice. In this regard, many countries envy Pakistan’s agriculture systems.

However, ‘feeding its population’ is related to global economic situation, energy crisis, education levels and business environment, which are in turn related to history, governance and economic system. What is needed is a growing economy with good energy security to help achieve food security immediately while investments in the agriculture sector, education and infrastructure may help in the long run, he says.

Gallagher says that there is no direct correlation between self-sufficiency in food production and hunger. It is more important to optimise the use of land, water and other natural resources to generate income. For example, a hectare of kinnoo will generate more money than several hectares of wheat — so in theory, it would be better to support kinnoo production while purchasing wheat.

Mr Lehri explains that the government’s efforts for achieving self-sufficiency in food availability have been successful and we have become a net wheat exporter. Besides wheat, we are also self-sufficient in sugar and rice; and are at present net exporter of these two commodities.

This has been achieved because of innovations in agricultural research, incentives to growers both in the shape of support price as well as marketing. A reasonable use of inputs has led us towards more production, he adds.