37% of Pakistan's population faces food insecurity

Main problem is access and affordability, though staple food is sufficient

​ Our Correspondent June 26, 2020


At least one in three people is affected by food insecurity, even though the country has abundant staple food crops but their inadequate distribution complicates the situation.

“Almost 37% of Pakistan’s population is food insecure, even though Pakistan is self-sufficient in major staples, and the main problem is access and affordability of food,” remarked Shaikh Sultan Rehman, Vice President of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), in an interactive seminar on food security.

Per capita consumption of food products that had a high nutritional value like beef, chicken, fish, milk, vegetables and fruits was almost 6 to 10 times lower than that in developed countries, which affected labour productivity and young population, said Asma Khalid, Senior Economist at the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

Pakistan is ranked 106th among 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index and has been characterised as facing a “serious” level of hunger due to malnourishment, micronutrient (iron, calcium and Vitamin A) deficiencies and deficit of safe drinking water.

Under-five malnutrition costs around $7.5 billion every year, which is equivalent to 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) and the cost comprises loss of future labour force, high under-five mortality rate, low labour productivity emanating from stunting, anaemia or iodine deficiencies in childhood, and prevalence of chronic weakness and fatigue, etc, she said.

The senior economist emphasised the need for introducing support price for all crops and providing agricultural insurance to support the farmers. “Growing population and climate change will create food security challenges for Pakistan,” she said.

“Food security in Pakistan is linked with human capital and strong economic implications,” Rehman said.

Referring to statistics of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, he added that a high rate of malnutrition could cost the economy around 3-4% of GDP, which affected the young generation mainly due to increase in death rate, malnutrition and low future productivity.

Moreover, the growing population and climate change were other challenges, which may pose risk to food security in future, he said.

Globally, Pakistan is ranked eighth in the production of wheat, 10th in rice, fifth in sugarcane and fourth in milk. Despite this, it faces a shortage of these products which affects their prices.

“Hoarding and smuggling are the issues that create food shortage in Pakistan,” he said. “We need implementation of the National Food Security Policy announced in 2018.”

Agriculture Policy Institute Director-General Dr Rafique Ahmed Chandio underlined the need for strong coordination between the federal and provincial governments and the private sector, adding that Covid-19 increased poverty and unemployment and may create food insecurity in Pakistan. Moreover, global economic policies of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), an unfair trade regime and tariff rationalisation are hurting agricultural investment in Pakistan.

Crop Protection Association of Pakistan Chairman Jamshed Iqbal Cheema stressed that there was high food insecurity in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, followed by Sindh, due to rising poverty, unemployment and low income of people.

He called for changing eating habits towards those crops that had a high potential like potato, maize, cow milk, etc and had better nutrition compared to traditional food, which would help to reduce malnutrition and improve labour productivity. 

Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2020.

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