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Dawn

Published Date: Jun 17, 2013

No action plan for food security

The only activity the ministry was engaged in after its creation was ‘Zero Hunger’ project launched in March, 2012 but it came to a standstill after the exit of ex-premier Yousaf Raza Gilani who had shown
keen interest in it. In fact, the ministry itself became dormant since then. The project whose draft was prepared by World Food Programme still
lacks operational details.

In February this year, the ministry’s secretary said it has prepared a
draft of National Food and Nutrition Security Policy whose “core objective is to reduce the current food insecurity situation in the country by 50 per cent by 2030 and to zero per cent by 2050.” The draft,
he said, has been sent to all the provinces and stakeholders for comments. What happened later is not known.

Now the new minister, Sikandar Bosan, after assuming the charge on June 8 said that the ministry will be reactivated and various programmes
launched “to achieve the goal of national food security”.

When the ministry of food, agriculture and livestock was devolved, some functions listed in the federal legislative list related to it were
retained at the federal level. One such function was to ensure food security. As a result, the ministry of national food security and research came into being. Its major tasks include economic coordination and planning in respect of food, import and export of food grains and food stuff and coordination with research bodies such as Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, etc.

Since how much country’s population suffers from food insecurity has yet to be worked out by the ministry, two figures are usually quoted at seminars, workshops and discussions. One is 58 per cent which was concluded from a national nutrition survey 2011 conducted by the Benazir
Income Support Programme. The first minister for national food security
and research, Mir Israrullah Zehri, also referred to this figure while speaking in the Senate last year.

The other figure is 48.6 per cent which is based on a 2010 report on the state of food security in Pakistan sponsored by the Swiss Agency for
Development and Cooperation. This report was a follow-up of an analysis
that the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) produced in 2004 in collaboration with the World Food Programme. At a recent seminar, CEO, Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment and
Chief Nutrition, Planning Commission of Pakistan, also referred to this
figure.

Recent research shows that food security cannot be ensured only by increasing the availability of food by raising agricultural production. It also requires better access to food. In other words, the objective of
food security cannot be achieved unless and until the issue of poverty is also addressed. Quoting some independent studies, the PML-N manifesto
says that in the past five years, the proportion of population living below the poverty line increased from 34 per cent in 2007 to 40 per cent
in 2012.
A drastic reduction in poverty levels has thus become the most important development challenge for the new government.

The PML-N intends to move a legislative bill in the parliament for adding a new article to the constitution to make the ‘Right to food’ a fundamental right of every citizen within a reasonable time frame. This will meet the objective the ministry of national food security stands for. To implement the ‘Right to food’ policy, the Nawaz Sharif government will formulate, in consultation with the provincial governments, “a national strategy for food security to achieve an average agricultural growth of at least four per cent per annum in the next decade, evolve an equitable system of food procurement and distribution, improve the access of poor households to food at affordable prices and evolve a transparent system of safety nets for very poor households.”

Pakistan’s experience clearly shows that marginal adjustments in development policies will not address the issue of mass poverty. The PML-N thinks that a paradigm shift will be needed to evolve pro-poor growth strategies that will change institutions and local power structures in favour of the poor, by giving them greater access to productive assets such as land and livestock and facilities for acquired
education and skills. Other important elements of such a pro-poor growth strategy will be increasing non-farm employment in rural areas through small and medium enterprises and greater stability in food prices.

According to reports, the federally administered tribal areas have the highest percentage of food insecure population at 67.7 per cent, followed by Balochistan at 61.2 per cent and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at 56.2 per cent. Among the districts, Dera Bugti has the percentage as high as 81.2 per cent. In all, 80 of the 131 districts are food insecure. Of these, 45 are extremely food insecure. The 20 districts of Pakistan with
worst conditions for food security include 10 districts from Balochistan, five from Fata; three from KPK; and one each from Gilgit Baltistan and Sindh.

Food security is a complex issue, resulting from a mix of climate change, rural poverty, agricultural and population growth. Frequent weather changes trigger shifting patterns in crop growth, leading to lower production, rising prices and inadequate means to feed the world’s
hungry millions.

Pakistan’s first-ever climate change policy, officially launched on February 26, 2013, focuses on development sectors such as water resources, agriculture and livestock, forestry, human health and disaster preparedness. Its goal is to ensure that climate change is mainstreamed in the economically and socially vulnerable sectors of the economy and to steer Pakistan towards climate resilient development. Water and agricultural sectors are likely to be the most sensitive to climate change. Fresh water availability is expected to be highly vulnerable to the anticipated climate change.”

According to a report by the World Food Programme, food insecurity – especially when caused by a rise in food prices – is a threat and impact
multiplier for violent conflict. It might not be a direct cause and rarely the only cause, but combined with other factors, for example in the political or economic spheres, it could be the factor that determines whether and when violent conflicts will erupt.