According to the World Food Programme (WFP), six out of 10 Pakistanis are food-insecure. Every government in Pakistan has made plans to reduce food insecurity in the country.
The incumbent government’s plan has been outlined in the Vision 2025. Within this policy framework, the goal is to reduce Pakistan’s food insecurity from 60 percent to 30 percent by 2025, taking the country a step closer to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of eliminating all hunger and malnourishment from the world by 2030. The question is: how strong are these policy goals and what is lacking in them?
First of all, matters of an urgent nature should not be put in a decades-long policy framework, especially when they can potentially be dealt with in the short-run. Imagine if after the Second World War, the Germans had said that they would reduce the killing of Jews by half in the next two decades and, after that, their goal would be zero-religious killings in the next 15 years.
Such is the tone of the Vision 2025 as well as the SDGs when dealing with matters of critical importance that must be dealt with in the short-run on an emergency basis. Several studies show that food insecurity around the world as well as in Pakistan can be eliminated on an urgent basis as well. All that is needed is political will along with suitable policy planning and its careful implementation. But under the influence of the neoliberal mindset, the longer route is being preferred. While this may increase economic growth and investment, it comes at the cost of prolonged poverty, inequalities and food insecurity.
Under the principles of neoliberalism, greater emphasis is placed on the achievement of goals through markets, the private sector and global partnerships. The governments all over the world are either run by billionaires or are under the influence of billion-dollar corporations. In such a state, the elite find it convenient to take away the responsibilities of the state and hand them over to private corporations.
That is why poverty alleviation and food security become the long-term plans while privatisation, trade liberalisation and public expenditure cutbacks become the short-term and urgent policy goals. This strategy is quite clearly visible in the Vision 2025 as well as the SDGs. But long-term goals cannot be achieved without meeting a number of short-term goals.
Several scholars argue that the assumption that neoliberal principles are perfectly compatible to achieve goals such as poverty alleviation and food security runs contrary to the empirical evidence. Since the direction of these short-term goals is often misguided, there is always little or no hope about fulfilling the long-term goals on time.
There are four components of food security: the availability of food, the accessibility to food, nutritional utilisation and stability. In Pakistan, the availability of food is not as big a problem as the other three components. The reasons are veiled under the social, cultural and political dynamics of the country. In his book, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and deprivation, Amartya Sen discusses several historical famines and argues that the problems that stemmed from these phenomena were not related to food availability. Instead, they were an outcome of the lack of accessibility. He argues that entitlements matter when it comes to dealing with matters as important as food insecurity.
Under the neoliberal framework, food becomes a private commodity and the access or entitlement to it is only possible in exchange for money. This means that while the government gives up its responsibility of providing the essentials of life to its citizens, it also creates inequality and only affluent people can afford even the most basic commodities. The agricultural sector of Pakistan is run partly through the principles of feudalism and partly under capitalism. The lack of food entitlements for a majority of the population is a direct outcome of this.
Food insecurity increases hunger levels, decreases productivity and results in lower incomes. This pulls people into poverty and dependability by turning this process into a vicious cycle. The fact that our policies are designed in such a way that matters involving food security are put on the backburner raises serious concerns.
The rulers in this country tend to brags about the majority vote. Perhaps it is time that they also start ‘owning’ the majority that continues to remain food-insecure due to their misguided policy frameworks and devise policies that deal with this matter on an urgent basis.
The writer is pursuing an MPhil in development studies at Lahore School of Economics and works as a research associate at LUMS.