Oct 11 - 17, 20

Food insecurity at the household, district, provinces and country levels is widening with each passing day since 2003 amid rapidly dwindling purchasing power of common person.

According to a report, many districts have become food insecure, while others are gradually moving towards food insecurity. The food security situation at the household level is rather much severe. About 80 out of 131 (61 per cent) districts are food-insecure in Pakistan. Of them 45 districts (34 per cent) are extremely food insecure.

Agriculture that is a primary source of livelihood for about 70 per cent of Pakistanis is the worst hit by the recent catastrophic floods that not only put gigantic task for the government for the rehabilitation of millions of displaced people but also badly affected every countrymen due to soaring prices of vegetables all over the country. Preliminary Damage Needs Assessment (DNA) of agriculture sector reveals a loss of Rs300 billion (3.4 billion dollars). As per estimates, the floods have damaged 10 million tonnes of standing sugarcane crop on 0.195 million hectares valued at over Rs26 billion. Sugarcane output is now estimated at 44.5 million tonnes against its projected target of 54.83 million tonnes. The floods washed away standing paddy crop on 0.876 million hectares and as a consequence Pakistan will face a shortfall of 2.40 million tonnes of paddy. Farmers have suffered over Rs61 billions loss due to paddy crop damage especially in Southern Punjab and Sindh.

Cotton crop was sown on 3.199 million hectares, of which 0.6 million hectares have been destroyed. Cotton production will be around 11.411 million bales against the production target of 14 million bales this year. Losses to the other crops inclusive of pulses, maize, fodder, and sesame stand at Rs115 billion.

Although soaring prices of vegetables are attributed due to damages caused by floods, experts believe that cartelisation at different levels of agriculture market is the biggest hurdle in price control. Citing an example, they said there was no shortage of edible items in the country but artificial shortage is being created. Price control is a provincial subject and despite revival of magistracy system the provincial governments have failed to evolve any effective price control mechanism so far, they claimed.

They asked the government to provide farmers of flood-hit areas a comprehensive package by giving them free of cost seed, fertiliser as well as other support before the upcoming wheat sowing season. Apart from package, heavy earth moving agricultural machinery and other equipment may also be arranged in the effected areas to reclaim the flooded lands.

They also suggested the government to allow export of livestock as floods destroyed fodder on millions of acres land and, at present, export of animals will be beneficial not only for the farmers but also for the country.

Dr Abid Suleri of Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in his presentation on food security in Pakistan said in terms of population, 48.6 per cent of the population is food insecure with various degrees of food insecurity. Of the total food insecure population, 22.4 per cent are chronically food insecure.

Consumers are critical of the government over soaring prices of essential items especially vegetables, ghee and sugar that have climbed to an all time high. They said the government has not taken any serious measures to contain food inflation. If there is shortage of these items, the government must take immediate steps to fill the gap between demand and supply by importing these items from neighboring countries, they said.

Taking undue advantage of situation, producers of different essential items have increased prices of different items like packed milk, ghee and cooking oil etc., they said.

In vegetables, the market players and wholesalers have still been linking the price hike to the loss of various crops in the floods, besides demand and supply gap caused by destruction of road networks. Vegetable rates have been record high after floods. Consumers are paying Rs60-80 per kg for tomato while ladyfinger, turrai, tinda, garlic etc., are out of reach of common person.