ISLAMABAD: Despite surplus production of staple food commodities, a significant portion of Pakistan’s population remains food insecure, largely due to extreme poverty, which has adverse effects on both the farming community as well as the masses, particularly the poor.
Pakistan is largely an agrarian economy with the largest irrigation system in the world. It has been producing surplus amounts of wheat, rice, potatoes and other major crops for years. Under the circumstance, one would be forgiven for expecting a greater food security for its population. However, it is not quite the case.
The bumper production of several crops for multiple years has become a headache for both the government and farmers due to their surplus stocks in stores and open spaces. The farmers face difficulty in striking a favourable price, amid a global glut. Simultaneously, with the high cost of producing crops, farmers need a certain price for their business to be sustainable. The support price announced by the government is barely enough.
The government has failed to figure out how to utilise the stock it has bought, which amounts to 9 million tons of just wheat available in various stores of Punjab and Sindh in addition to rice and other commodities.
Many reports suggest that a significant volume of wheat, potato and rice stock in stores or in the open spaces is spoiled and damaged. Additionally, the glut has created space issues, especially as far as the future stock procurement is considered.
To address this issue, the government has been taking a number of steps including offering a handsome subsidy package on wheat exports. However, despite the subsidies, Pakistan’s produce cannot compete with the low priced commodities in the international market which means that the stock remains unsold. At the same time, the government has also imposed a 60% regulatory duty on the import of wheat to avoid any inflow of the cheap commodity, which happened last year with the import of wheat from Ukraine.
However, there are no systematic and coordinated efforts on the government’s end to address the food insecurity issues of its marginalised population.
According to a recent interview with World Food Program Country’s director to Pakistan, 43% of the country’s citizens remain food insecure with 18% facing a severe shortage. Around 15% of the population under the age of five is acutely malnourished. Close to 43% children (around 10 million) face stunted growth and are chronically malnourished – most of them situated in FATA, Balochistan and Tharparkar.
The director said that the problem was not food production, but poverty and illiteracy, in addition to a systematic channelling from production point to end consumer that bars people from accessing food and consequently deprives them of the required calories and nutrition. Furthermore, children and women are the most vulnerable demographic as far as food insecurity is concerned.
Close to 18% of the country’s population gets less than 1,700 calories per day, making them severely food insecure, since the requirement for a healthy individual is at least 2,350 calories per day.
To address the issue, the vulnerable population needs subsidised food and support by channelling the food supply through different welfare programmes, by both provincial and federal governments, with coordinated and holistic approach to ensure that all possible steps to deliver the required food to the marginalised population are taken.
Such drastic mechanism will not only help reduce food insecurity, but also help utilise the surplus stock of crops.
On the farming end, there is a need to diversify the produce and the variety of its crops so that the issues pertaining to nutrition may be better addressed with a richer diet and surplus of any particular commodity can be more easily resolved.
Source: The Express Tribune