Looming food insecurity

ByUmair Jalali

Teaches in The Royal Colosseum and is an avid sports fan


January 2, 2023

Looming food insecurity

Umair Jalali talks about a
serious issue

Looming food insecurity is now a very combustible issue in Pakistan as it is consistently reported that more than 17 percent of households experience moderate or severe food insecurity. Pakistan is subjected not only to poverty but political and economic instability, natural disasters and low agricultural attainments that have badly damaged many sectors of human development particularly nutrition and health. The yardstick for measuring food insecurity is that it is evaluated in terms of money, full of nutrition food and the level of hunger. To increase worries about this issue it is mentioned that food security is not essentially an agricultural issue but its tentacles are spread to trade and macroeconomic challenge that needs to be addressed by a comprehensive policy encompassing agriculture, international trade, economic development and poverty alleviation. The first step in this direction is to cater to the need of utilising every available fiscal space to build up its reserves of wheat and rice to ensure food security and to stabilise food prices in the country.

It must be conceded that climate challenges, pandemic blows and economic instability have resulted in a global hike in fuel and food prices that has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine causing a cumulative crisis for food security. The food security crisis is now rated to be quite serious particularly for countries such Pakistan, India and Afghanistan that stand very low on Global Hunger Index that are placed at 92, 101 and 103, respectively out of 116 countries. In case of Pakistan it is reported that the precarious food insecurity situation in Balochistan, Sindh and KP has become difficult. Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine is also having an indirect impact on food availability in the country as around 60 per cent of the wheat consumed in the country was imported from Ukraine making Pakistan the third largest importer of wheat. The result is that the International Food Security Assessment, 2021-31, has warned that food insecurity in Pakistan is expected to reach 38 per cent in the next decade.

It is reported that insufficient food and its inadequate quality are major contributors to nutritional deficiencies, impacting the overall health conditions of the population concerned and in Pakistan, not everyone is blessed with enough means to consume three meals daily, let alone three healthy meals, to meet their dietary requirements. It must be kept in view that besides food insecurity, nutritional insecurity is also a matter of concern and it is widely held that children and women are nutritionally deficient that contributes to the overall burden of disease. The most viable symptoms of the malaise is reflected in very high food prices prevailing in the country that also face high volatility reflecting long term rising trend. It is pointed out that the food insecurity is mounting in Pakistan due to consistent financial weakness that has compelled to reduce agricultural subsidies that have depressed agricultural yields.

In this respect, Pakistan, with the galloping rate of population growth currently known to be at 1.9 per cent that is considered far higher than the global average of 0.9 per cent, finds it very difficult to feed its population. The primary reason for this failure is the lack of expansion of the agricultural land that has simply not matched the growth in population and this difficulty could be gauged from the fact that the per capita arable land that was 0.66 hectares has drastically decreased to 0.14 hectares. The inevitable result of this reduction is that Pakistan has to rely on increasing crop productivity (yield per acre) to feed its ever-increasing population but this is not the easiest of solutions as it involves very high levels of farm inputs and high level expertise of the personnel involved in agriculture. Both these requirements are badly lacking and along with threatening climate conditions it have become almost impossible to increase crop yields.

The situation is dire and it is reported that more than half of Pakistani population generally spends nearly half of its household budget on food whereas the figure for advanced economies ranges from six per cent to 8 per cent. The issue in this respect is that what methods could be employed to bring affordable food to the table of Pakistan’s poor people without further distorting the market as well as how to create incentives for farmers to produce more food in the country. Keeping in view that for agriculture and rural businesses the formal financial sector is simply not existent and emphasising through repeated banker-led reports that formal agricultural finances mean nothing for them. This failure is quite understandable because knowledge-based bankers have no institutional means at their disposal and they are not equipped to deal with this situation. In view of the intense lack of formal financing arrangements it is very difficult to expect change in agricultural production and may not be able to ward off food insecurity. TW

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