Aug 6 - 12, 20

In Pakistan food insecurity is alarmingly rising with great speed. Food insecurity apart from terrorism is the most serious menace to Pakistan. According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) Pakistan is one of the most food insecure countries in Asia.

Food insecurity threatens the smooth development of the economy and the lives of more than 84 million Pakistanis. In 2009 Pakistan in food insecurity position was rated as 58th among 84 developing countries. India was ranked 65th.

The high prevalence of food insecurity in the country has given rise to crime, suicides, suicides attack and selling of children.

Pakistan being one of the largest producer and supplier of wheat, rice, sugarcane, date palm, oranges, mangoes and the fifth largest producer of milk continues to face chronic shortage of food.

In the urban areas of Pakistan the food security is deteriorating. Rising food prices and low purchasing power are leading to increased food insecurity in Pakistan's emerging cities and towns where 35 percent of the country's populations reside.

According to United Nation World Food Programme of the 56 percent population residing in Pakistan's urban areas, about 21 million people are considered food insecure.

The Swiss Agency for Development indicates that almost 48 percent of Pakistan Population does not have enough food to eat which openly shows that scourge of huger is taking place at an unusual rate. More than 15.7 percent of the population has poor food consumption and 58 percent is at the borderline.

With an increase on poverty, people are spending more on food than on other items. On the poorest group, the average household expenditure on food has gone up to 62 percent in 2009 from 56 percent in 2005-06.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has the highest percentage of people with poor consumption category, followed by Balochistan and FATA. According to the report that even the better- off districts have no sufficient money to meet even their basic needs.

Food insecurity crisis in Pakistan is the result of bad management and governance as the government has failed to check corruption, smuggling and artificial rise in basic commodity prices.

As the country continues to suffer from severe food insecurity the best option in the present situation is to focus on extensive investment on agriculture.

Agriculture sector plays a strategic role in the economy of the country. It is a major sector, providing food to the fast growing population of the country. It accounts for 21 percent of GDP and employs about 45 percent of the country's total population.

Despite its importance to food security this sector has been suffering persistently from decline. The major crops remained below the target during fiscal year 2012. This may be attributed to reduction in areas under cultivation and rise in price of fertilizers and pesticides.

The government has failed to achieve 3.4 percent growth target of agriculture sector for fiscal year 2012 because of less than estimated production of major crops, rice, wheat and cotton.

For the financial year 2012 the government had set wheat production target of 25 million tons but production of 23.5 million tons could be achieved. As against a target of 7.2 million tons rice production target actual output could not exceed 6.4 million tons.

Wheat production declined by 6.7 percent mainly due to 2.6 percent reduction in area under cultivation and delayed sowing. Wheat was cultivated on 8,666 thousands hectares as compared to 8,901 thousands hectares.

Among all Asian nations, Pakistan is lowest in spending on agriculture research. Instead of investing on research and innovation, Pakistan's agriculture sector is concentrated on increased use of inputs, including fertilizers, pesticides and water, which led to decline in productivity.

Agriculture production is not increasing and Pakistan has to import billions of rupees worth of pulses, fruits and vegetables every year.

Pakistan was investing on agriculture research 0.25 to 0.29 per cent of agriculture GDP. On the other hand India was investing 0.4 per cent, Bangladesh 0.35 per cent, China 0.6 per cent and Japan 2.5 per cent. The developed world was investing 2 to 3 per cent on research and development. The outdated research infrastructure and little or no incentives for innovation were obstructing agriculture growth in the country.

Sarfraz Khan, vice-president of Kissan Board Pakistan (KBP) said small farmers, being biggest share holder in farming and dairy sector should be given priority in research work.

Experts in Pakistan as well as India are warning about drought like situation. In fact Indian government has already prepared contingency plans for 320 districts where monsoon rains have been poor, amidst concerns of a 20 percent shortfall in rains in August-September this year.

Among various measures being taken to tackle the drought like situation, Indian government plans to supply states with additional electricity to draw water from tube wells. Special sanctions have been made that include 300MW of electricity for Punjab and Haryana and about 275MW for Uttar Pradesh.

Experts fear that in case India faces drought like situation it may curtail discharge of Pakistan's share of water. They also fear that more wheat and rice will be smuggled to India, Afghanistan and Iran. In this context Pakistan will also face shortage of staple food.

We must take the example of China that will invest in agriculture innovation to boost food security. China accounts for a fifth of the world's population with less than 9 percent of its arable land. China's leaders are aiming to get serious about technology to ensure long-term food supplies.

China would encourage research focusing on areas including bio-technology, seed production and effective use of farmland, Xinhua reported.

The government would seek to push banks to increase lending to rural areas and keep prices of agricultural commodities at 'a reasonable level. The central government estimates that China's national grain consumption will reach 572.5 million tonnes by 2020.

For decades, the world largely snubbed investments in developing country agriculture. In 2009 at the G-8 meeting in L'Aquila, Italy, President Obama called upon world leaders to once again focus on food security to fight hunger and poverty. As a result, countries committed more than $22 billion toward agriculture, reversing decades of underinvestment.

The president also launched Feed the Future, the US Government's global food security initiative, designed to transform agriculture in 20 countries so they can grow enough to feed their own people.

In 2012, the United States once again stressed the importance of food security at the G-8 in Camp David, this time focused on a partnership designed to increase private sector investment in African agriculture.

Food insecurity condition in Pakistan can substantially be improved if the government sincerely increase investment in agriculture sector, improves the management of food stocks, assure good governance, concentrate on the availability of food at reasonable prices, focuses on research and marketing system.

For food security, Pakistan may take the example of Bangladesh which has taken several steps to enhance agriculture by providing liberal credit to poor farmers. In Bangladesh poverty has fallen from 57 percent of the population in 1990 to 40 percent in 2005 despite frequent natural catastrophes.

During the last decade Bangladesh has exhibited an impressive annual growth rate of 6 percent. India is now speaking of introducing second green revolution to strengthen its food security programme.

Pakistan may at least take a concrete step in introducing the first green revolution. Pakistan should cooperate with Brazil which has successfully launched several food security programmes. As a result of this, today Brazil does not have the problem of food scarcity.