Sep 12 - 18, 20

In spite of significant progress Pakistan has made in agriculture production over the last six decades, the majority of population in the country still faces food insecurity.

Rising inflation, specially of food items specially during the last few years, has caused severe food insecurity as millions of Pakistanis have limited access to food due to its high prices. The concerned wing of the UN has pinpointed this threat saying that although plenty of food was available in the markets but millions belonging to poor and low income group could not buy them due to spiraling prices.

According to the United Nations World Food Program report, more than 48 percent population of Pakistan is suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition.

Our incumbent government is not ready to accept the interpretation of the esteemed institution that there is any food insecurity in Pakistan. According to them, there is only a question of affordability about which they do not appear to be much worried.

Some serious minded, however, accept the fact that increased gap between availability of food and its affordability is a serious problem which is adding to the incidence of food insecurity and which also needs prompt and serious attention of the government.

According to the scientists and environmentalists, food insecurity and climate change are interconnected issues and there will be a massive change in crop production and land utilization in years to come due to increase in temperatures affecting cash crop such as wheat, cotton, and sugarcane. They also say that unabated consumerism and unchecked exploitation of natural resources are also contributing to the impending danger.

The menace of food insecurity has already taken a heavy toll and the number of its affectees is rising rapidly. According to one latest estimate, over one third of the population is suffering from chronic hunger. A significant proportion of the undernourished population has reached to a peak of 36 per cent with hundred of thousands children, 48.6 per cent of 170 million population of the country, are deemed to be food insecure. The figure is much higher in the conflict-ridden areas like FATA (67.7 percent) and Balochistan (61.5 percent) thereby placing Pakistan at No.11 on the index of food stressed countries in the category of extreme risk.

It is a complex phenomenon that is attributable to a range of factors that vary across regions: availability, accessibility and affordability. Pakistan seems to be lagging in all these in various degrees.

The problem of availability of food is mainly due to the difficulties in production and productivity of agriculture sector. The country had been on a good track of development, but the food insecurity had deteriorated since 2003 due to natural calamities, global food price increases, militancy and loss of land to residential and industrial developments. Further impediments such as inadequate water supplies, outdated farming methods, and absence of crop rotation added to the limitations of this sector.

Pakistan's agriculture growth slipped to 1.2 percent in the last financial year (2010-11), which was less than the official annual growth rate while population growth rate exceeded 2.5 percent during this period, which clearly indicated a decline in per capita food availability. Per capita grain area shrunk from 56 percent in 1950 to 35 percent in the year 2000.

Meanwhile, the food import bill is constantly on the rise. According to the data released by the State Bank of Pakistan, the food import bill rose by 28 percent to $445 million from $345 million during the last financial year (2009-10 ) while none of the items included in the import list are something that cannot be produced in the country.

Import of sugar and pulses cannot be justified in any circumstances. To make the matter even look worse milk and milk products are also being imported on a large scale despite the country being the sixth largest producer in the world. The list of imports reflects the policy failure and lack of governance.

Food security can pose serious problems for the country if the attitude of neglecting the agriculture sector continues for some more years. But, for now the food insecurity in Pakistan is mainly because of governance problems and rampant corruption all around.

The prices of food items on an average went up by over 100 percent during the four years rule of the present PPP led government. In most cases, the abnormal hike in the food items prices is the result of profiteering in connivance of the controlling authorities who get due share in the loot. This nexus must be broken to save the consumers.

Price control authority should be devolved to district administration. Decentralization is considered as the best solution to governance issues, even in monarchic states such as Saudi Arabia.

Corruption can also be best tackled in local governance systems. If ensured of equitable justice system and zero tolerance for corruption, investors will have definitely no problems in making investments to improve the agriculture sector's outputs to tone down intensity of threats to global food security and to strengthen Pakistan's economy.