Editorial of Impending food security
All indicators point out that Pakistan will soon be in the grip of Impending food security as not enough actions are taken to tackle this issue headlong. In wake of the low agricultural yield all along the country, has brightened the prospects of impending food shortages that are becoming real by the day causing unwanted inflation that is already eating at the body fabric of the country.
The considered opinion is that the country is already short in grains recorded to meet the required food for all the people inhabiting the country. The food insecurity is increasing by the day and there are many factors responsible for it. It is a serious problem and requires immediate measures to mitigate this situation. A horrific surge in the cases of COVID-19 created the conditions that suppressed growth in the food sector and resulted in shortage. In the COVID-19 world, food security will assume far more strategic importance.
Even now when the pandemic is prevalent in most parts of the world and is far from over, its importance is obvious. While fighting the pandemic, feeding the population and keeping food reserves to meet a possible food shortage in the future should be the top priority. The current situation is far from satisfactory and such an untenable state of affairs needs widespread efforts on part of the government to ameliorate this difficult spectre. Another aspect that aggravated the food security is the consistent lack of coordination between the federation and the provinces and this trend is needed to be reversed.
It is already clear that more than 20.5 per cent of Pakistan’s population is undernourished and 44% of children younger than five years of age are stunted. The national nutrition survey showed that 36.9 per cent of Pakistani population faced food insecurity. Food security cannot be ensured by just boosting agricultural growth. The availability of larger amounts of food crops alone cannot ensure food security. People can become food secure only when there is enough of food grains and dairy and milk products available in local markets and are also affordable.
The current average food inflation stands stood at 13.6% and 16% for urban and rural populations, respectively. Average national inflation during this period was 10.9%. Food inflation to remain higher than general inflation is undesirable in a country like Pakistan where income levels are falling and it is no less than an irony that rural people that produce food face higher food inflation. Whatever the reasons, this betrays the commitment of Pakistani policymakers towards ensuring food security.
Pakistan’s agricultural productivity is low and the performance of food crops remains erratic. Per-hectare yields, already far below global and regional averages, either rise too slowly or do not rise at all. Livestock and fisheries sectors continue to ask for research and modernisation with the result that the output of dairy and meat does not grow fast. The current growth levels lag behind at least ten years and the chances of achieving high growth appear to be remote. This situation creates tremendous implications for food security and food exports and is needed to be looked into expeditiously.
This time round the problem began when the agriculture sector registered a low growth and it grew at 2.7 per cent indicating a low-base effect. The main problems confronting the sector was unexpected rain and desert locust attacks on crops that assumed dangerous proportions after the paddy crop was fully harvested and large parts of wheat and summer maize crops of 2019-20 were also reaped. Experts in Pakistan realise this difficulty and global experts also warned that such attacks may become more devastating during 2020-21. Sindh locusts have already damaged wheat, oilseeds, pulses, fodder and vegetable crops on 166,701 hectares or 13.8% of the province’s total cropped area. The locust threat also poses a risk to Sindh’s cotton, sugar cane and other crops. It is now reported that swarms of locusts were present in all 33 districts of Balochistan and the warnings are that new swarms might enter Pakistan via Iran and Afghanistan.
The experts are of the view that the allocated amount of Rs.10 billion may not be enough to meet this challenge and this allocation is required to be increased. The federal allocation of Rs.10 billion for fighting locusts is part of the Rs.20 billion programme devised for containing the damage caused by the tropical grasshopper. The provinces are supposed to contribute the remaining funds. Both federal and provincial governments will have to ensure that the money is utilised in the most transparent manner and does not cover the purchase of luxury vehicles for officials involved in its implementation. If the locust attack is not fought back forcefully, the damage to food crops and the resultant food insecurity and food inflation will create immense socio-economic problems and add to the current political chaos in the country.
Adding to the woes is tremendous lack of cooperation and coordination between federal and provincial authorities. They require effective and transparent implementation. It appears quite difficult to expect much improvement in coordination aspect due to polarising political situation in which provincial-federal relationship is extremely disharmonious and there are no visible efforts to put them on sound and rational footings. Apparently small federal allocation will not be helpful in ensuring food security depends on lots of things, including the size of the matching allocations by the provinces. To have a clearer picture of how achievable food security and agricultural growth objectives are, one will have to wait to see how provincial budgetary allocations are utilised. TW