Thursday September 28, 2023

In Sindh, an uncertain food security outlook starves for structured efforts

March 20, 2019

KARACHI: Sindh province’s food security outlook remains a cause of concern despite the government and private sector’s pouring in a good deal of investment as well as efforts for many years, which begs for filling the coordination gaps to achieve the targets.

It was the crux of a symposium titled “Food and nutrition security emerging challenges and way forward", organised jointly by Research and Development Foundation, WHH Germany, and Accelerated Action Plan (AAP) Government of Sindh on Tuesday.

The event attracted representatives of Sindh government's various departments, United Nations agencies, community leaders from Thar desert, and those working on food security, water, and agriculture.

Dr Sahib Jan Badar, programme coordinator (Health) Accelerated Action Plan (AAP) said despite having 14 million acre land under cultivation, 72 percent households in Sindh province are food insecure.

“Sindh has four seasons, where we see crops cultivation but we do not have balanced diet and are facing a horrible situation,” Badar said adding, microdeficiency was also one of the hidden factors, which should be taken seriously at all levels.

She said, “Obviously we talk about Tharparkar district, where child death reports are appearing frequently in media, but, there are more Thars in Sindh where the situation is similar in terms of malnutrition”.

Water resources in many areas are not available, which also contribute to create malnutrition, Badar added.

She said malnutrition was linked to poverty and unavailability of food.

Badar also highlighted that despite the projects like Nutrition Support Programme, an initiative of UN World Food Programme and Saaf Suthro Sindh Programme at union council level and many other initiatives, the results were not adequate.

Dr Zahra Ladhani, nutrition expert said, “We have worst/highest rate of malnutrition in the region. In fact we have more resources and are spending more money, but the results are not satisfactory”.

Ladhani pointed out another reason for early malnutrition was that breastfeeding was on the decline in the overall society.

She added that despite crying against the quality of water, more than 80-87 percent people do not treat water for drinking. Only seven percent people are aware or actively use boiled water at homes in Sindh, she said, adding that “we all have to look at food security issues and work together to resolve them, especially in Sindh”.

Mustafa Nangraj of Sindh Agriculture Extension Department discussed two models of producing food and suggested growing a variety of vegetables at household level to have access to safe and nutrient-dense food.

Nangraj, who is also a researcher, said many indigenous trees in Sindh were sources of fruit and food, which have shrunk due to the effects of Climate change. For example, he said, “we do not have more wild jujube trees, which otherwise were easily accessible to the rural children and people in almost all the areas”.

Nangraj said once jujube was the main source of nutrition for locals. He further said earlier farmers also used to produce different varieties of vegetables, but now situation had changed and many of them were reluctant to cultivate vegetables.

Dr Fatah Mari, chief coordinator Water Sector Improve Programme (WSIP), said the projects for poverty alleviation and nutrition were working to cope with food security challenges.

“Earlier, agriculture growth was optimal but in the last 15 -20 years productivity has declined drastically and people are protesting against water shortage across the province,” Mari said.

He said the emerging challenge of nutrition security was identified 30 years back but was not taken seriously by anyone.

Mari proposed agriculture rural transformation be improved to address joblessness in the rural areas.

Ashfaq Soomro, CEO Research & Development Foundation, talking about the vulnerability of children in Tharparkar district, said,” It is known as a living museum of nature and cultural beauty, but now children in this area are vulnerable to malnutrition”.

He also gave brief presentation about the successful projects regarding food security, environment, agriculture, spate irrigation, and livelihoods, implemented with the communities in different districts, mainly in arid zones.

Muhammad Khan Mari, underground water conservation expert, working with communities, said now underground water was being taken in for coal fields, which may create problems for ecosystem in future. He suggested conducting fresh research to understand underground water availability after start of Thar coal project.