Food Insecurity in Pakistan (B-29)

Food Insecurity in Pakistan (B-29)

Publication details

  • Tuesday | 21 Apr, 2009
  • Abid Qaiyum Suleri
  • Books, Annual report
Download File

It is often said, “Food insecurity anywhere, threatens peace everywhere”. Food insecurity may cause unrest or even political instability. Persistent food insecurity may cause conflicts, civil wars and can threaten the overall peace of community, society, nation or world depending on the extent and spectrum of hunger and poverty.

The term food security reflects the desire to eliminate hunger and malnutrition. The World Food Summit in 1996 defined food security as, “when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet the dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. This definition implies that food security has three pillars i.e., physical availability of food, socio-economic access to food and food absorption.

Based on a composite index of the above mentioned pillars of food security, it is observed that state of food security in Pakistan has deteriorated since 2003. The conditions for food security are inadequate in 61 percent districts (80 out of 131districts1) of Pakistan. This is a sharp increase from 2003, when conditions for food security were inadequate in 45 percent districts (54 out of 120 districts2) of Pakistan. Almost half of the population of Pakistan (48.6 percent) doesn’t have access to sufficient food for active and healthy life at all times.

The report comes up with substantial evidence that inter and intra provincial disparities exist in terms of food security. FATA has the highest percentage of food insecure population (67.7 percent) followed by Balochistan (61.2 percent), and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) (56.2 percent). The lowest percentage of food insecure population (23.6 percent) is in Islamabad. Among the districts, Dera Bugti in Balochistan has the highest percentage of food insecure people (82.4 percent).

Balochistan has the highest number of districts with worst conditions for food security. The 20 districts of Pakistan with worst conditions for food security include 10 districts from Balochistan, 5 from FATA; 3 from KPK; and 1 from Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and Sindh each. The number of districts from Balochistan in this category has doubled since 2003.

Dera Bugti, Musa Khel, Upper Dir, North Waziristan, Kohistan, Muhmmand, Dalbidin, South Waziristan, Orakzai, and Panjgur are the 10 districts with worst conditions for food security in Pakistan.

Islamabad Capital Territory is the most food secure district of Pakistan. Among the top twenty districts with best conditions for food security, besides Islamabad, are 14 districts in Punjab and 5districts in Sindh.

There are two major sources of food; one is crop based while the other one is animal based. Physical availability of food is determined on the basis of “consumption versus production”. Although Pakistan witnessed a six percent increase in surplus wheat producing districts (from 24 percent in 2003 to 30 percent in 2009) from 2003 to 2009, the percentage of surplus food (aggregate of both animal and crop based food) producing districts declined from 28.3 percent in 2003 to 17.5 percent in 2009. This means that majority of districts in Pakistan are either relying on external food supply either from domestic or international sources. This reliance occasionally creates marked disparity of prices in food surplus and food deficient regions. At times, this also results in hoarding of food leading to food price hikes, thus taking food beyond the economic access of many. This phenomenon is also supported by the observation that consumption of wheat in Pakistan declined by 10 percent in 2009- 10 due to lack of purchasing power. It can be safely claimed that ensuring food security is much beyond increased wheat production.

Access to food was determined based on Food Consumption Scores3 (FCS), household income, child dependency ratio4, living conditions, food expenditures, market prices of food commodities, and coping strategies. The percentage of districts with adequate conditions for reasonable access to food was not very promising in 2003. Only 13.3 percent i.e., 16 out of 120 districts had adequate conditions for reasonable access to food. However, this situation seems to be further aggravated in 2009 when only 7.6 percent districts (10 out of 131) fell in the category of having reasonable conditions for access to food.

Conditions of access to food in Balochistan have particularly deteriorated. In 2003, the 20 districts in Pakistan with the worst conditions for access to food included 8 districts from KPK, 4 from FATA, 3 from GB, 1 from Sindh and 1 from Punjab. In 2009, this category includes 16 districts from Balochistan, 3 from KPK and 1 from Sindh.

Provision of adequate conditions for reasonable access to food merits immediate attention of policy makers and international community as 25 out of 29 districts in Balochistan, 5 out of 7 agencies of FATA, 12 out of 24 districts in KPK, 8 out of 23 districts in Sindh, and 5 out of 34 districts in Punjab have extremely poor conditions for access to food. It is pertinent to note that 4 out of 5 districts with extremely low conditions for access to food in Punjab are in Southern Punjab.

With the increase in poverty, people spend more on food as compared to non-food items. Within the poorest group, the average household’s expenditure share on food has gone up to 61.6 percent in 2009 against 55.6 percent in 2005-06. The most common coping strategy both in urban as well as rural areas is to rely on less preferred and less expensive food. The second most adopted strategy is limiting the size of meals. Negative coping strategies, including reducing expenditure on health and education, lead to chronic food insecurity.

The third pillar of food security, i.e. food absorption, was measured based on the state of sanitation, access to drinking water, and female literacy rate. Only 9 percent districts (11 out of 120) displayed conditions for reasonable food absorption in 2003. In 2009 the situation had further deteriorated with only 7.6 percent (10 out of 131) districts in Pakistan meeting these prerequisites. One quarter of the total districts in Pakistan has extremely poor sanitation facilities where more than 50 percent of houses are without toilet. Similarly one quarter of the total districts has extremely poor state of drinking water where more than 50 percent households have no access to clean potable water. Almost a quarter (23 percent) of the districts have an extremely low female literacy rate (10 percent or below). FATA with 6.2 percent female literacy rate is the worst.

Most of the above mentioned figures reveal that individual food security in Pakistan has deteriorated from 2003 to 2009. One can try to understand the insurgency and militancy in Balochistan, FATA, KPK and four remote districts of Southern Punjab from a food security angle. Although it is difficult to develop conclusive empirical proof, the strong overlap of food insecurity and militancy provides considerable evidence of a potential nexus.

Coping with growing food insecurity is a daunting challenge for the Government of Pakistan that has to prioritize its limited resources amongst defense related expenditures (to curb militancy); debt retirement; day to day administration; and public sector development However, the potential militancy-food insecurity nexus cannot be ignored in Pakistan and requires a change in paradigm where food insecurity should not be treated merely as a humanitarian issue, but a national security issue. This report endorses the recommendations of the Planning Commission’s Task Force on Food Security that a National Food Security Strategy must be evolved. We suggest that the primary focus of such a strategy should be ensuring food security in extremely food insecure districts. Resources channelized to improve the food security situation at the local level are critical to improve development and security at province, national and regional level. It looks like that the country is already paying its price for having neglected food security. Access to food was determined based on Food Consumption Scores3 (FCS), household income, child dependency ratio4, living conditions, food expenditures, market prices of food commodities, and coping strategies. The percentage of districts with adequate conditions for reasonable access to food was not very promising in 2003. Only 13.3 percent i.e., 16 out of 120 districts had adequate conditions for reasonable access to food. However, this situation seems to be further aggravated inv2009 when only 7.6 percent districts (10 out of 131) fell in the category of having reasonable conditions for access to food.

Conditions of access to food in Balochistan have particularly deteriorated. In 2003, the 20 districts in Pakistan with the worst conditions for access to food included 8 districts from KPK, 4 from FATA, 3vfrom GB, 1 from Sindh and 1 from Punjab. In 2009, this category includes 16 districts from Balochistan, 3 from KPK and 1 from Sindh.

Provision of adequate conditions for reasonable access to food merits immediate attention of policy makers and international community as 25 out of 29 districts in Balochistan, 5 out of 7 agencies of FATA, 12 out of 24 districts in KPK, 8 out of 23 districts in Sindh, and 5 out of 34 districts in Punjab have extremely poor conditions for access to food. It is pertinent to note that 4 out of 5 districts with extremely low conditions for access to food in Punjab are in Southern Punjab.

With the increase in poverty, people spend more on food as compared to non-food items. Within the poorest group, the average household’s expenditure share on food has gone up to 61.6 percent in 2009vagainst 55.6 percent in 2005-06. The most common coping strategy both in urban as well as rural areas is to rely on less preferred and less expensive food. The second most adopted strategy is limiting the size of meals. Negative coping strategies, including reducing expenditure on health and education, lead to chronic food insecurity.

The third pillar of food security, i.e. food absorption, was measured based on the state of sanitation, access to drinking water, and female literacy rate. Only 9 percent districts (11 out of 120) displayed conditions for reasonable food absorption in 2003. In 2009 the situation had further deteriorated with only 7.6 percent (10 out of 131) districts in Pakistan meeting these prerequisites. One quarter of the total districts in Pakistan has extremely poor sanitation facilities where more than 50 percent of houses are without toilet. Similarly one quarter of the total districts has extremely poor state of drinking water where more than 50 percent households have no access to clean potable water. Almost a quarter (23 percent) of the districts have an extremely low female literacy rate (10 percent or below). FATA with 6.2 percent female literacy rate is the worst.

Most of the above mentioned figures reveal that individual food security in Pakistan has deteriorated from 2003 to 2009. One can try to understand the insurgency and militancy in Balochistan, FATA, KPK and four remote districts of Southern Punjab from a food security angle. Although it is difficult to develop conclusive empirical proof, the strong overlap of food insecurity and militancy provides considerable evidence of a potential nexus.

Coping with growing food insecurity is a daunting challenge for the Government of Pakistan that has to prioritize its limited resources amongst defense related expenditures (to curb militancy); debt retirement; day to day administration; and public sector development However, the potential militancy-food insecurity nexus cannot be ignored in Pakistan and requires a change in paradigm where food insecurity should not be treated merely as a humanitarian issue, but a national security issue. This report endorses the recommendations of the Planning Commission’s Task Force on Food Security that a National Food Security Strategy must be evolved. We suggest that the primary focus of such a strategy should be ensuring food security in extremely food insecure districts. Resources channelized to improve the food security situation at the local level are critical to improve development and security at province, national and regional level. It looks like that the country is already paying its price for having neglected food security.