Food security is emerging as one of the major issues which the nations will encounter in the days to come due to increasing population and squeezing land for food production. The world bodies under the United Nations such as FAO have already identified this challenge and attributed their focus towards planning and reducing the effects of food scarcity especially for those parts of the world where the Nature does not provide ideal situation for agriculture in the form of soil and climate. Pakistan falls in that fortunate part of world where Nature ideally supports agriculture. Therefore, the efforts of the Pakistan government in realising the issue and focusing on giving due importance to Ministry of Food and Agriculture and its role towards working out strategy with all stakeholders in agri produce, including farmers, fertiliser producers, pesticide producers and research and awareness providers will be vital to set future discourse. This challenge can be converted into opportunity and we can play our part in world food security and also earn revenue.
Availability of food is a fundamental human right but according to reports of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) one in nine people around the world go hungry every day. The world population is estimated to grow from 7 to 8.3 billion in 2030 and to 9.1 billion in 2050. By 2030, food demand is predicted to increase by 50% and to 70% by 2050. This fact poses a huge challenge of growing 70% more food in 40 years to the agricultural sector. Most of the 3 billion people projected to be born world-wide by mid-century will be born in countries already experiencing water shortages. China, India, Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Mexico and Pakistan are likely to face large water deficits. Other than Pakistan, four of these countries already import a large share of their grain. However, with Pakistani population expanding by 4 million a year, it will soon turn to the world market for grain. Water deficits, soil degradation and climate change are already hitting numerous countries including South Asia. The water tables are falling due to widespread over-pumping. The countries affected include Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. This will eventually lead to water scarcity and cutbacks in grain harvest. China is already developing a grain deficit which will almost certainly drive grain prices upward. Agricultural products pass through extensive value chains of its production life cycle and require continuous well planned and synchronised efforts of farmers, farming input providers like pesticides and fertilisers producers and the modern technology for making best use of water, climate and soil. This all can only succeed with foresighted and focused government food and agriculture policies and by joint efforts of all stakeholders.
The world seems committed to taking on this challenge; there are 209 million fewer hungry people now than in 1990. Already 63 countries have met the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target. Some regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean have made impressive progress in increasing food security. However, there has been only modest progress in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, where natural disasters and conflict continue to trap people in hunger. Food security is a condition related to the supply of food, and individuals’ access to it. The term “food security” was defined for the first time at World Food Conference in 1974 with an emphasis on supply. The report of the 1996 World Food Summit states that food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Pakistan’s total land area is about 803,940 square kilometres. About 48 million hectares, or 60 percent, is often classified as unusable for forestry or agriculture and consists mostly of deserts, mountain slopes, and urban settlements. The economy of Pakistan depends heavily on agriculture. Importance of this sector is manifold as it feeds people, provides raw material for industry and is the base of our foreign trade.
All above realities warrant a priority relook by government into its agriculture policies to keep ensuring food security for the nation. It is important for the government to understand the value of Ministry of Food and Agriculture and its policies for future of Pakistan. The recent farmers’ package of Rs 341 billion in grants, subsidies and loan advances from the government is a step in right direction. The package includes immediate cash grants for farmers, cuts in fertiliser prices and a government scheme to pay insurance premiums for small farmers. The policies, however, need to be more consistent and must have broad awareness for all stakeholders for better synchronisation. Use of innovative technologies to produce more nutritious food, focus on human capacities and institutional framework, introduction and production of smarter ways to use fertiliser and water and improvement in methods of crop protection is a joint effort and can only succeed with mutual efforts and enhanced awareness. The package for fertiliser price reduction has already triggered debate as Urea price, a commodity which has much more share in farmer usage as compared to other fertilisers. The urea prices went up due to increase in prices of gas for fertiliser production and farmers are waiting for its roll back. The Indian fertiliser secretary Anuj Bishnoi announced that India’s urea production, which has been stagnating at 22 million tonnes (mt) for some years, is to rise to 24 mt in 2015-16 mainly due to the pooling of gas prices and promotion of energy efficiency. Government needs to find ways to jack up support to Pakistan’s fertiliser sector.
Food security is the future of Pakistan and needs strategic handling. The government and private partnership will not only facilitate farmers but also benefit in increasing their awareness which remains a missing link in our present strategies. Two important steps to move forward are the recognition of food security issue by the government and empowering and supporting the Food and Agriculture Ministry to overcome this challenge and bringing all stakeholders on board towards achieving the common goal of food security in Pakistan and be part of those proud countries who meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This is a cross Post From Business Recorder Published on 30 Nov 2015.