How food secure is Pakistan? Many of us know the answer intuitively to be a negative one. This has been confirmed by the State Bank of Pakistan . As part of its third quarterly report on the state...
How food secure is Pakistan? Many of us know the answer intuitively to be a negative one. This has been confirmed by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). As part of its third quarterly report on the state of the economy, the central bank has noted that only 63 percent of Pakistan’s households are food secure. This is despite the fact that Pakistan is self-sufficient in major stable foods. The fact that one-third of all households in the country are not food secure in a country which produces almost all of its food means that the problems lie in the mechanisms for distribution as well as the low rate of compensating rural labour. What would come as a surprise to most policymakers is that Gilgit-Baltistan, a region of mostly subsistence cultivation, is the most food secure in the country at almost 80 percent. This is followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at 70 percent. This leads one to wonder if there is an adverse relationship between the production of commercial crops for the market and the level of food security in a region. It is even more ironic that GB is a region that does not produce Pakistan’s staple grain of wheat.
The worst position is occupied by Balochistan where almost half of the households face mild to severe food insecurity. Out of one-third households that are food insecure, half face severe food insecurity. The situation explains why Pakistan occupies a position in the seven countries responsible for two-thirds of the world’s under-nourished population. On the other hand, Pakistan is the world’s eighth largest wheat producer, the 10th largest rice producer, the fifth largest sugarcane producer and the fourth largest milk producer. It is clear that the problem lies in how the market mechanism works to take away food from those who need it most. While around a quarter of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line, poverty is the worst in rural areas where it has hit around 31 percent. This should be a joke. How are the areas that produce food the ones most affected by food insecurity?
The situation is so poor that almost half of the children under five years of age suffer stunted growth which puts Pakistan in the bottom 15 countries in the Global Hunger Index. The SBP fears that the situation is likely to get worst due to high population growth, growing water stress and climate change in the next two decades. The cost of this comes to around $10 billion in lost economic resources every year, which the government can easily recover by investing in reforming the agricultural sector. The poor situation in Punjab and Balochistan is also explained by the low level of support received by the poorest populations in the provinces. While one must remember that PM Imran Khan used his first speech to highlight the issue of malnutrition, there is little that has been concretely done to address the issue of chronic food insecurity in Pakistan.