Aug 6 - 12, 20

Pakistan is an agricultural state thus agriculture gains are of much importance than any other sector. Though all economies rely on three sectors agriculture, manufacturing and service and growth in each augment growth in others as well. Importance of this sector is manifold as it feeds people, provides raw material for industry and is a base for foreign trade. Foreign exchange earned from merchandise exports is approximately 45% of total exports of Pakistan. It contributes 21% of GDP and 52% of the total populace is getting its livelihood from agriculture. Food insecurity exists in the absence of food security. The chronic hunger kills more people every day than disasters, diseases or war.

The concern of food security is accentuated at individual, household, national, regional and global level when people do not get physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a healthy life. At national level, government's efforts to reduce poverty are expected to enable individuals get adequate nutritional food. Globally, nearly one billion people - one out of six globally - lack access to adequate food and nutrition. By 2050, the global population is expected to go beyond 9 billion, and demand for agricultural products is expected to double. At the same time, the world's agricultural systems will be increasingly challenged by water scarcity, climate change and volatility, raising the risk of production shortfalls. Substantial gains in agricultural productivity can be realized through investment, innovation, multipronged policy and other improvements. However, realizing these gains will require an exceptional level of collaboration among stakeholders in the agricultural value chain, including governments, corporations, civil-society organizations, farmers, consumers and entrepreneurs. Stakeholder alignment around shared priorities and large-scale initiatives can therefore be key to success in providing food security.

In Pakistan, food insecurity has become crucial and adversely damaging to economy and national security due to its special circumstances. Pakistan's population has grown at much faster rate in last three decades and is expected to grow to 234 million by 2025 and further reach upto 357 million by 2050. Whereas, the situation is alarming as per capita availability of land and water has been declining rapidly. We need to possess the potential and availability of growing demand of food. At first physical availability of food and then economic accessibility to it for the people is required.

Planning and policies as we witnessed in the past that first we export, and then we import 'Pakistani wheat' at much higher rates during the time of crises from the neighboring countries. There have been serious irregularities in the past in wheat export and then import. The traders mafia (that includes ministers, influential parliamentarians and the private traders plus few industrialists) in our country is very strong and the common consumer suffers the net impact of such malpractices. Government takes decisions in the name of consumers but in actual effect these are the traders who benefit from exports/ imports and not the consumers. The profiteering tendency of the global food producers and distributors even at the cost of people's survival is bound to create social and political upheavals. This is a harsh reality which the business people and policy makers have chosen to ignore so far.

Food sovereignty is the right of people to define their own food and agriculture, and to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade. This is not available to even smallest percentage of labour force associated with agriculture. Pakistan's largest labour force is associated with agriculture but its contribution to GDP is on continuous decline year after year. Agriculture production used to contribute 42% in 1970-1980, which is now down to 21%. Some of the reasons are mentioned above and most significant is the dishonest planner causing exploitation of rural poor due to lack of education, technological unawareness, ownership of small farms, less effective farming techniques and economic vulnerability.

In Pakistan we can find countless number of stories coming from the every nook and corner of the country, trying to shed light on the miseries caused by the food shortages and the price hike. These stories are indicating poor planning and fake intention of decision makers. There are reports on food shortages and also claims by the government on food availability. There are reports on mill-owners and farmers associations asking government to increase the crop support price. There is story of farmers burning their own crops of sugarcane because of very low support price. There are reports on smuggling and hoarding of wheat. There are reports on how state run 'utility-stores' are creating hurdles for common citizens to utilize relief schemes introduced by the government. There are also reports on the steps taken by the government to curb food crisis - bids to foil cross-border smuggling, price subsidies, importing wheat etc. All these reports are pointing towards one fact that from the last few years Pakistani is suffering as the prices of edible food items including wheat, rice, meat, pulses, vegetables are all skyrocketing and out of reach of the poorest segments of the society. Natural calamities and mismanagement of land and water has also contributed in lowering agriculture output.

Realizing the situation of current food insecurity that may augment in the years to come, emergency measures are required to be taken for agriculture food security. These include; water management by building dams and irrigation systems, provision of agriculture credit to farmers, availability of seeds, pesticides and fertilizers at subsidized rates, utilization of wastelands, efficient utilization of under-utilized lands, development of problematic lands, rainwater harvesting and conservation for the development of rain fed areas, development of irrigation, diversification to high value crops, increasing cropping intensity, timely and adequate availability of all farming inputs, strengthening of marketing, developing agriculture infrastructure (including warehouses), encouraging private sector to take up extension services, reforms to introduce proactive policies for the farm sector and traing of farmers to adopt modern techniques of farming.

Food has been declared as a basic human right by UN. There is lots of empirical evidence available to prove that scarcity of food can be a potential source of conflicts and incidence of socio-economic and political instability. Food crisis might lead to law and order situation if not controlled in time. Frustration of a common citizen is visible from the number of protests reported in the media and the security hassles which are resulting due to it. In the scenario of global food shortage forecasts by experts, Pakistan need to take this issue seriously to become at least self-sustain in the availability of food for its people.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Bahria University Karachi)