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June 28, 2020

Corona crisis worsens food insecurity for low-income population

Business

June 28, 2020

KARACHI: The corona crisis has aggravated food insecurity in Pakistan that sees more than one-third of its population lack access to high-value nutrition required for social and economic mobility, economists said.

Asma Khalid, senior economist of State Bank of Pakistan said the country’s per capita consumption of high-nutritional value food is 10 times lower than developed countries and that means lowering labour productivity.

“There is need of support price for all crops and agriculture insurance to support farmers,” Khalid said, addressing a session at the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI).

The economist said Pakistan ranked 106th among 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index, and has been characterized as facing a ‘serious’ level of hunger due to under-nourishment, micronutrient deficiencies and a deficit of safe drinkable water. Under-5 malnutrition costs around $7.5 billion every year, which is equivalent to 3 percent of GDP and cost comprises loss of future labor force, low labour productivity emanating from stunting, anemia or iodine deficiencies in childhood and prevalence of chronic weakness and fatigue, she said, citing a research of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Rafique Ahmed Chandio, director general of Agriculture Policy Institute stressed need of ‘strong’ coordination between federal and provincial government and private sector.

“COVID-19 increased poverty and unemployment in Pakistan, which may create food insecurity in Pakistan,” said Chandio. “Government initiated different programs in order to overcome the poverty and unemployment but institution’s response is very weak due to insufficient data availability. Global economic policies of World Trade Organization, unfair trade regime and tariff rationalisation are hurting agriculture investment in Pakistan.”

Khalid Kaimkhani, provincial additional director food (finance and accounts) said wheat production is declining in the Punjab, while there is shift from staple to other crops.

Sheikh Sultan, vice president of FPCCI said almost 37 percent of country’s population is food insecure despite the fact that Pakistan is self-sufficient in major staples at present.

“The main problem is access and affordability to food,” Sultan said.

Sultan emphasised the need to form long-term, consistent policies in consultation with all stakeholders, establish warehouses and cold storages to save fruits and vegetables from being wasted, and utilise modern irrigation technologies to increase food security in Pakistan. He also underscored need for implementation of national food security policy announced in 2018 wherein it was decided that the agriculture production was to increase four percent every year and special attention would be given on agriculture research.