Achieving food and nutritional security has remained one of the core underlying objectives of all the policies, programs and strategies by the successive governments in Pakistan. After the 18th constitutional amendment, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MINFA) functions were devolved to provinces. However, in view of the importance of attaining and maintaining national food security and better execution of unevolved functions of MINFA, Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFSR) was established by the Government of Pakistan.
Pakistan needs a comprehensive policy focusing on enhancing food availability, improving food access, enabling food utilization and ensuring food stability at all levels. This policy is based on series of discussion with stakeholder, policy briefs prepared by MNFSR, projects and proposals developed, new acts and laws, special programs for addressing food security, food security assessment, and framework developed for expanding agricultural production base.
Pakistan is a highly diversified country, having 12 agro-ecological zones, where more than 35 types of crop and livestock mixed farming systems are practiced. Policies of the successive governments to achieve self-sufficiency in food grains (wheat and rice) and sugar have been implemented successfully. As a result, surpluses in wheat, rice and sugar are produced in the country. However, high cost of production and lower international prices often do not allow Pakistani farmers to compete in the international markets.
It is imperative to address the exploitative market practices as well as lack of storage and value-addition facilities. It is a fact that every inch of Pakistan’s land can be productively used to contribute to the prosperity of the rural population of Pakistan. The lands in Thar, Cholistan and Nurpur Thal-coastal belt, FATA, can be cultivated and used for innovative agriculture purposes.
Agriculture sector is mainstay to food availability in the country. This requires emphasize to enhance production of diversified food to improve nutrition level of the people, and undertake measures to increase productivity of crops by ameliorating supply of essential inputs; seed, fertilizers, pesticides and credit. It also demands enhancing irrigation water availability and use as well as mechanization.
Development of a robust agriculture sector depends on supply of timely and quality key farm inputs like seed, fertilizers, credit, pesticides on affordable prices. Therefore, a framework and strategy has to be developed to ensure supply of quality farm inputs under a transparent and effective regulatory arrangement.
Seed is a vital input for crop production upon which, the efficiency of other agricultural inputs greatly depends. The supply of certified seed in the country is limited to only few major crops like wheat, rice and cotton; whereas, the availability of certified seed is almost non-existing for minor crops. Hybrid seed of maize, vegetables, oilseeds and fodders are imported.
Nutrient contents of cultivable lands are low but pH level is very high, this has increased the use of synthetic fertilizers substantially. However, during the last five years, the fertilizer use has decreased due to higher prices. This has significantly contributed in increasing cost of production of crops.
The indiscriminate use of pesticides resulted into serious problem of pest resistance and chemical residues in various agricultural commodities, and contamination of ground water and environmental pollution. The quality of pesticide also compromised that affected productivity as well as polluted environment. Efforts will have to be made for improvement of regulatory support system for pesticide import and distribution at federal and provincial level.
The demand for agricultural credit in Pakistan has always been higher than the institutional credit actually disbursed. As a result majority of the farmers are compelled to avail credit from informal sources at a very high cost. The key issues in credit market are: 1) high transaction costs of lending to small farmers, 2) high interest rate, 3) small loan size, 4) cumbersome lending procedures and 5) lack of collateral.
Management of natural resources is a challenge due to declining soil health, depletion of ground water and rapid withdrawal of water resources. Water resources are under stress due to high demand of food by ever growing population. Overuse of tube-well water has resulted into depletion as well as intrusion of saline water in the ground water aquifer. The major challenges of irrigation water availability and use are: 1) absence of approved National Water Policy; 2) increasing population pressure; 3) shrinking water resources; 4) dwindling land for agriculture; 5) inadequate storage and sedimentation of reservoirs; 6) high water losses in irrigation system; 7) low water and land productivity; 8) untapped rainwater potential especially from hill torrents system; 9) limiting/diminishing energy resources; 10) lack of institutional arrangements and regulatory framework for groundwater management resulting into mining of aquifers; 11) deterioration of ground water quality due to saline water intrusion and 12) construction of water reservoirs by India on the rivers allocated to Pakistan under the Indus Water Treaty of 1960.
Agricultural mechanization is mainly limited to crop production. Tractors that are being used in Pakistan are based on the 1960’s technology and need improvement in their manufacturing technology through strict regulatory regime. Wheat production in the country stands substantially mechanized. However, production of rice, maize, cotton, sugarcane, vegetables and fruit remain partially mechanized. Wheat and rice harvesting is achieved using imported old combine harvesters. The inefficiency of old combined harvesters result in around 10 percent grain losses. The key constraints in the farm level mechanization are: 1) inefficient utilization of tractor horse power; 2) slow adoption rate of high efficiency irrigation system; 3) low manufacturing focus on small scale value-added machinery and implements to reduce post-harvest losses; 4) use of less efficient second-hand combine harvesters; 5) lack of machinery for small scale dairy farming; 6) lack of standardization for quality of farm implements and 7) non-availability of complete package of machinery at community level.
Post-harvest losses in durables (cereals and pulses) and perishables (fruits and vegetables) are 10 and 22 percent in the country, respectively. The cost of annual harvest and post-harvest losses is estimated around Rs300 billion for gains, fruits and vegetables only. The losses happened at harvest, threshing, storage and transportation stages. It is estimated that available storage facilities are one third of the requirements. The main causes of food losses are imbalanced use of inputs, faulty irrigation systems, diseases, insect and fungi damages, inappropriate harvesting practices, excessive supplies, poor grading and packaging, poor handling during transportation and storage etc.
Markets play a key role in the transfer of products from farms to consumers. However, markets in Pakistan have poor standards, lack basic hygiene and traceability, inconsistent grading practices and inefficient transportation services. Smallholders are mostly isolated from markets and are dependent upon middlemen to harvest and sell their produce, and as a result are often exploited. The consumers also suffer in terms of paying higher prices, which affects their purchasing power and have negative implications on household food security.