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Published Date: Jul 1, 2009

Food Insecurity in Pakistan (B-29)

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.