Addressing food insecurity

Poor households across Pakistan remain extremely vulnerable

July 04, 2021

While addressing the recently held National Kissan Convention, Prime Minister Imran Khan asserted that food insecurity remains one of the biggest challenges in Pakistan and that the country must act immediately to protect the population. But while the PM did mention that importing raw materials for food such as wheat impacts foreign exchange reserves, he failed to acknowledge that high inflation, poverty and unemployment are also a part of the issue.

Despite the fact that the agriculture sector is producing food in a surplus, poor households across Pakistan remain extremely vulnerable to food insecurity due to a lack of access. One cannot undermine the fact that inflation — recorded at a nine-year high at 14.6% in January — is a major factor since it has a direct impact on the purchasing power of poor households. According to a recent survey conducted by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, around 3.8 million people are currently facing acute food insecurity. High levels of poverty coupled with a surge in food prices have led to severe malnutrition and stunted growth. Four out of 10 children under the age of 5 are stunted while more than half of children in Pakistan are anaemic. The situation is particularly tragic in rural areas even though agriculture is an important part of the rural economy.

The commercialisation of food also poses a huge problem. While the rich have complete control of industries, and feudal lords own the land, food resources should first and foremost meet the needs to the people before it is exported for profit or sold at high prices. Furthermore, agriculture remains utterly neglected even though our economy is agriculture-based. While lands are increasingly becoming barren due to climate change, deforestation and pollution, little to no research has been conducted and no serious mitigation efforts have yet been taken.

In the midst of it all, labourers and peasants remain excluded from the overall process and are instead treated as slaves. They need to be empowered and the government must strengthen labour unions. The problem is complex and requires a systematic well-thought-out plan that would benefit the masses in the long-run.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2021.

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