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Challenges ahead to achieve food security in Pakistan

Pakistan at the time of its birth had hardly enough arable land and surface water resources to achieve food security. The Mangla Dam and other associated water infrastructure were constructed, and a massive land-clearing and reclamation effort was undertaken. The area under cultivation saw an increase as did the yields through large-scale utilization of modern inputs like urea fertilizer to lift the agrarian potential of the country and achieve food security by the early 1970s.

All is now changing. Pakistan began to see widespread incidence of malnutrition, which had until now largely impacted the youngest children. Now the Food and Agriculture Organization is telling that the area under cultivation has stagnated at just around 25 percent of the total land area of the country, and food output is not going to be able to keep pace with the rapid population increases.

With dwindling water resources, further expansion is not possible. Soil fertility is worsening; increasing yields is also becoming a growing challenge. The pressure to grow more nutritious food per unit of land is growing at an accelerating rate, putting unprecedented stress on future food security.

Pakistan is facing food insecurity due to insufficient agricultural production, political instability and corruption. Lack of purchasing power and access to adequate food supply for many of the poor people is the key reason for the country’s low level of food security.

Phenomenal economic growth is hard to anticipate. Hunger and malnutrition continue to prevail because of poor distribution of resources and lower purchasing power of the poor. Sufficient quantities of food at the national level and reduced poverty alone do not equal food security and good nutrition for all.

A shortfall in investment has led to limited innovation in the agricultural sector. Antiquated farming methods and inefficient use of resources have contributed to poor productivity. Two-thirds of the country’s population and 80 percent of the poor live in rural areas. Lack of development in agricultural infrastructure and advancement in farming methods has made agricultural production difficult and inefficient.

Fresh Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2017, shows that Pakistan remains at the lowest level on 106th place among 119 developing countries. With more than 22 percent of its population undernourished and lagging behind even India and most of the African states.

Pakistan faces serious hunger problem that could become more alarming in the coming years. Food security is not just about producing enough food; it is more about its nutritional value and variety as well as people’s access to it.

 

World Food Programme’s Country Director Lola Castro in September last year admitted that Pakistan does not have an issue with food production but she said that both the quality and quantity of food available to most poor and illiterate Pakistanis was not enough to meet their basic nutritional needs. There is a famine-like situation in Thar almost every year and many children die of different diseases caused by malnutrition there, but the National Food Security officials won’t do anything to find a permanent solution.

It’s not just Thar Desert where children suffer because of the defective food policy. The poor, especially children all across Pakistan, even in big cities and high food production areas, remain starved and malnourished. The All Pakistan Business Forum (APBF) called for making efforts to reduce and avoid environmental pollution and consume resources sustainably. Population control should also be on the agenda of the government and society. Environmental pollution and degradation pose additional challenges to the country in terms of food security.

Major environmental issues include water pollution from raw sewage, industrial waste and agricultural run-off; rising deforestation; soil erosion and desertification.

The United Nation World Food Programme in its recent report has said that Pakistan has made significant progress over the past decades and brought food security and nutrition to a more prominent place since 2010. The report said that the agriculture sector produces surplus food to achieve self-sufficiency in the main staples food crops.

The Benazir Income Support Programme now reaches about one-third of the impoverished population and resources were just made available to help more than 1.5 million people graduate from poverty and leave hunger behind. Pakistan aspires to become an upper middle-income country and top-25 economy by 2025.

The report says that fortifying wheat with important micro nutrients and modifying existing social safety nets to not only reduce poverty, but also improve food security and nutrition.

The report also identifies challenges to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) ‘zero hunger’ in Pakistan and makes recommendations on how to overcome them at federal and provincial levels. Better governance and elimination of corruption would help improve the level of food security.

There is the urgent need for investment in agricultural infrastructure. There should be research and development work in order to improve farm productivity and cope with natural disasters.

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