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Wednesday May 29, 2024

Food security

By Editorial Board
June 03, 2023

Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research Tariq Bashir Cheema has claimed that the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are using “pressure tactics” and trying to spread “sensationalism” when it comes to food insecurity in Pakistan. The claims are motivated by a recent report jointly issued by the FAO and WFP which highlights Pakistan as one of 22 countries where acute food insecurity is likely to increase from June to November. The minister argues that this is not the case, claiming that food imports would likely come down this year due to a larger sowing area in Punjab and Sindh and a bumper wheat crop. He also hopes that the country will see bumper crops of rice and maize and said that the government’s Kissan Package had helped boost agricultural production. However, bumper crops alone will not solve food insecurity woes as inflation leaves many staple foods beyond the reach of a majority of Pakistanis. Food inflation in particular is reported to have gone as high as 48.1 per cent in recent months. While the minister acknowledged that hikes in food prices were a problem, he claims the government is working to address this issue through various relief programmes for the poor.

The FAO-WFP report on hunger hotspots lists Pakistan as a hotspot with very high concern with “a high number of people facing critical acute food insecurity, coupled with worsening drivers that are expected to further intensify life-threatening conditions in the coming months”. The “worsening drivers” appear to refer to the country’s political and economic crises, which, if they continue to get worse, will have a detrimental impact on food security, compounding the damage done by last year’s catastrophic floods. According to the report, around 8.6 million Pakistanis are already experiencing acute food insecurity.

Upon examining the report, it is hard to be reassured by the minister’s claims. While bumper crops and increases in sowing area are encouraging factors, they need to be put in the proper context. It is highly unlikely that Pakistan will achieve anything resembling self-sufficiency in food in the coming months and without a much-needed bailout from the IMF, food insecurity will deteriorate further. Indeed, the report refers to the fact that the bailout is still in limbo. Furthermore, the report notes that the rising political instability is preventing the country from obtaining external support and predicts that political unrest will likely intensify in the lead-up to elections. Anyone paying attention to the political atmosphere would find it hard to disagree with this assertion, unless some sort of deal is struck between now and October. Further strain on our financial resources will also make it harder for the government to sustain the levels of support it is offering farmers and the poor. There is also the looming threat of another monsoon that brings devastation, given that we are highly vulnerable to climate change and few if any preventative measures have been taken since last year’s disaster.