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The picture of food waste and state of security

Food wastage is the sum of food waste and food lost.It is an astonishing fact that every year around 36 million tons of food is being wasted in Pakistan. This includes food loss during production, post-harvest handling, agro-processing, distribution and consumption, every year. Due to extreme weather conditions in Pakistan, food loss is expected to be higher than computed by agricultural departments.

Food waste is a very common features at wedding ceremonies. Marriage in Pakistan is an occasion where people spend very extravagantly. Even those hailing from the middle class consider it an opportunity to display their fortunes in the form of bridals dresses, jewelry and lavish dinners. Normally these types of reception dinners take place around midnight. A time when penetratingly starving guest hastily rush towards the food tables, making pyramids of foods in their plates. They accumulate a heavy quantity of food in their plates in fear that next time they will not get a chance to get more food. Resultantly nearly half of the food in their plates is uneaten and goes to waste. Though most of the people know the importance of food wastage but when it comes to a wedding ceremony, they forget that many people are food-insecure. In this way, leftover food is thrown into the garbage According to recent research, approximately 40 percent of the food prepared for weddings is wasted. Likewise 30 to 40% food is wasted at various hotel banquets. Reportedly, in a major hotel in Islamabad, 870kg of food is wasted each day.

According to an estimate of World Food Program, 43 percent of the Pakistan’s population remains food insecure, with 18 percent facing a severe shortage. However, a 2018 national nutrition survey showed that 60 percent of the population still faces food insecurity. This is due primarily to limited economic access by the poorest and most vulnerable to an adequate and diverse diet. The survey also showed that that 15 percent of children under 5 suffer from acute malnutrition, the second highest rate in the region. Close to 44 percent of children in the same age group are underdeveloped, 32 percent are underweight and the majority of children under 2 consume less than half of their daily energy requirements, with low levels of vitamins and minerals.

On Global Hunger Index, Pakistan has been ranked 94, eight spots ahead of archrival India i.e. 102; whereas Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are at 88 and 66, respectively.

An average Pakistani household spends 50.8 percent of monthly income on food. This makes them particularly vulnerable to shocks, including high food prices. The impact of climate change and population displacements exacerbate the situation.

As a result of social and cultural norms and practices, women and girls face difficulties accessing humanitarian assistance and services. Wastage of food has many consequences. While 2.5 litres of water are sufficient for drinking each day, it takes about 3,500 litres to produce the food a person needs each day. Food waste impacts natural resources in terms of land and soil degradation.

Agricultural cultivation involves use of fertilizers and pesticides; transportation uses fuel and produces emissions; and storage involves use of electricity. All these resources go to waste when food is wasted.

Concept of food security

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the concept of food security is flexible, but is widely believed to “exist when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Major dimensions include:

  • Food Availability: The availability of sufficient quantities and appropriate quality of food, supplied through domestic production or imports (or aid).
  • Food Access: Access/entitlement by individuals to adequate resources for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet.
  • Stability: Population, household or individual should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks (e.g., climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g., seasonal food shortages).In short, the stability concept can refer to both the availability and access dimensions
  • Utilization: Utilization of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation and health care to reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met (this reflects importance of non-food inputs in food security).
Food security in Pakistan

Food security deals with the state of having reliable access to sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Essentially a pressing social concern, the lack of food security has strong economic implications.


First, ensuring food security within the country may entail large fiscal costs as governments incentivize farm sector to ensure food self-sufficiency, and also resort to social safety net programs (including direct transfers) to keep purchasing powers of poor population intact.In case the food self-sufficiency is not achieved, the country has to bear balance of payments cost to ensure food availability.

Secondly, the state of food security has strong linkages with the state of human capital in the country. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, high rate of malnutrition can cost an economy around 3-4 percent of GDP. In case of Pakistan, estimates suggest that malnutrition and its outcomes cost the economy 3 percent of GDP (US$ 7.6 billion) every year.1 In particular, high child mortality rates, prevalence of zinc and iodine deficiencies, stunting, and anemia, lead to deficits in physical and mental development that weakens labor productivity and loss of future labor force in the country.

Pakistan is presently self-sufficient in major staples – ranked at 8th in producing wheat, 10th in rice, 5th in sugarcane, and 4th in milk production. According to UNICEF National Nutritional Survey 2018, only 63.1 percent of the country’s households are ‘food secure’. The survey incorporates the Food Insecurity Experience Scale developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. This scale explains the insecurity through three dimensions:

Mild: Perturbing around the ability to obtain food

Moderate: Compromising variety/quantity of food and often skipping meals

Severe: Experiencing hunger on a chronic basis

Alarmingly, of the 40% families are labelled as ‘food insecure’ out of which 18.3% is facing ‘severe’ food insecurity. KPK and Gilgit-Baltistan are relatively more food secure than Sindh and Balochistan. Furthermore, the latest available estimates of FAO suggested that the country lags behind the progress of lower-middle income countries in all four dimensions of food security. With per capita income of US$ 1,497, Pakistan is still struggling with issues such as under-nourishment, micronutrient (iron, calcium, vitamin-A etc.) deficiencies. Per capita consumption of food products that possess high-nutritional value like beef, chicken, fish, milk, vegetables and fruits is almost 6-10 times lower than that of developed countries.


Almost a quarter of Pakistan’s total population lives below the poverty line. Around 50 million people in the country are unable to access basic needs given their incomes. In Pakistan’s rural areas, the poverty rate is around 31%. Another factor that contributes to food insecurity in the country is the import- dependence for certain items, which is partly responsible for significant variations in their prices.

In particular, limited (if any) attention has been paid to the local production of minor crops and livestock produce, such as pulses, fruits, vegetables, nuts and oilseeds, which not only contribute around 50 percent of dietary energy, but also significantly contribute to the nutritional food security.

Pakistan may not even sustain staple self-sufficiency in coming years. Food self-sufficiency per se does not guarantee food security. A country is considered food secure if food is not only available, but is also accessible, nutritious, and stable, regardless of its origin. Despite this, countries still make efforts to achieve food self-sufficiency by increasing production and imports, and constraining exports in order to buffer themselves from volatility in global food markets. In effect, self-sufficiency helps countries improve on at least the availability and stability dimensions of food security.


The generalization of current patterns of production and consumption, especially to developing countries with large populations, will not be sustainable without a radical change in the way resources are used. Given that food surplus and waste are increasingly identified as an example of sub-optimal resource-use in developed countries, research needs to be pursued to further understand the challenges and opportunities raised by potentially competing solutions to this problem with regards to Sustainable Production and Consumption (SPC).

In terms of social, environmental, and economic values, various solutions appear to constitute competing categories and hierarchies of solutions, in contrast to the single hierarchy. Going beyond recycling, reusing, or weak prevention to strong prevention requires rethinking the overall governance of the food system and its underlying power relationships between producers, manufacturers, retailers, food banks, NGOs, etc. In particular in a context of rapid population growth, only structural transformations of both food and economic systems would ensure universal access to nutritious food in adequate and not excessive quantities.

In overall terms, the dismal state of food insecurity in Pakistan can be traced primarily to the limited economic access of the poorest and most vulnerable to disruptions in the food chain. A part of this can be explained by the prevalence of poverty in the country.

The author, Mr. Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, is a freelance columnist. He is an academician by profession and writes articles on diversified topics. Currently he is associated with SZABIST as Registrar and could be reached at registrar@szabist.edu.pk.

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