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April 7, 2012

State Bank focuses on food security


April 7, 2012

KARACHI: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on Friday described the equitable distribution of land and the provision of constitutional rights to farmers a must to ensuring food security in the country.
“The unequitable distribution of land and the lack of constitutional rights for peasants prevalent in the country have to be addressed squarely, so that the poor people in rural areas gain access to and control over land resources,” the central bank said in a report on food security.
In order to adequately feed the country, the report says, the state must simultaneously ensure that farmers are provided the required resources to produce surplus food using sustainable agricultural practices.
The report said that the government and the central bank are alive to the situation and wish to establish a farmer-friendly policy and regulatory environment that encourages the development of a sustainable agricultural sector. This, in turn, will ensure economic growth, poverty alleviation and food security.
The SBP said that the current havoc wreaked by galloping food prices coupled with the financial crisis have caused policymakers across the globe to stumble, particularly in developing economies including Pakistan.
“The situation requires a shared vision and close integration among developing countries to review the roles of governments and regulators in ensuring food security,” it added.
Agriculture is considered the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy and contributes nearly one-fourth of the GDP and 44 percent of total employment. More than 67 percent of the rural population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihood, the report said.
Agriculture is the main source of providing food to the fast-growing population of the country with a growth rate of 2.23 percent. “The country is confronted with food security issues and every year, the government is compelled to spend invaluable foreign exchange over imports of wheat, sugar,

palm oil and other food items,” the SBP said.
“Pakistan is still facing food security challenges due to population growth, substitution of food crop lands with bio-fuel crops and inefficiencies in irrigation,” the SBP said.
Research and effective policies regarding agricultural resources, policies for water irrigation, skilled labour, technology, transportation and marketing, can help reduce the risk of severe hunger-like situation and improve food security, it added.
The country’s major food crops are wheat and rice. However, since wheat is the staple diet, it is cultivated on the largest acreages in almost every part of the country, it said.
A record crop was harvested in the preceding year. Wheat contributes 14 percent to the value-added in agriculture and three percent to the GDP.
Wheat production, however, has been well below the potential and stagnant around 2,400kg per hectare since more than a decade.
“The major reasons for low productivity and instability includes delayed harvesting of matured crops and consequent late planting of wheat, unavailability of improved inputs such as seeds, inefficient fertiliser use, weed infestation, shortage of irrigation water, drought-like situation and terminal heat stress, soil degradation, inefficient extension services, the lack of funds and low public and private investments in the sector,” the SBP said. “Moreover, farmers are not aware of modern technologies because of weak extension services system,” it added.
The SBP also discussed the water shortage in the country, particularly in southern parts of Sindh and Balochistan. The central bank also quoted UN World Food Programme, which said that of 56 million people living in Pakistan’s urban areas, around 21 million are now deemed food insecure. Majority of the rural population is facing food insecurity, including malnutrition, under nutrition, hunger, etc.
The population is consuming less than 1,700 calories per day, which is far below international levels.
Pakistan is vulnerable to food insecurity due to slowdown in availability of irrigation water; slower growth of food crops (comparatively low yield), insufficient storage capacity, higher post-harvest losses, weaker management, ongoing war against terrorism, rising trade deficit, high inflation, rising cost of production and rising oil prices.
Through effective policy and administrative measures, the government and the central bank are trying hard to achieve food security and ensure swift supply of food commodities with integrated efforts in agriculture, fiscal, monetary and trade policies, it added.

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