Food Security as a Non-Traditional Security Challenge for Pakistan

Being an important country of South Asia, Pakistan covers an area of 796,095 km. and the population of the country is more than 212 million people, which makes it the sixth most populous country in the world. If we further segregate the population into urban and rural areas, 64% of the population belongs to the rural areas and the growth rate of the population is high in the country. Pakistan has a labour force of 65.5 million and a labour force participation rate of 44%. It is pertinent to mention that almost 39% of the country’s labour force is associated with the agriculture sector. Here we need to know that 30% of men whereas 67 % of women are involved in agriculture sector being labourers. Once it comes to the Human development index, Pakistan has a medium score. The gross cropped area within the country consists of 22.6 million hectares out of the total 79.6 million hectares. When it comes to the irrigation system, one of the largest irrigation canal systems in the world irrigates 80% of the cultivated area of Pakistan. Around 90 % of farms are less than 5 hectares out of a total of 8.3 million farms. These small farms amount to 48% of the arable land. It is evident that the economy of Pakistan is mostly agriculture-based and contributes a share of 18.5 % in the country’s GDP. 

Besides its implication to the economy, the agriculture sector has been essential for domestic food accessibility and self-reliance. However, there is still room for more food accessibility, which has not been achieved yet in Pakistan, mostly for financial and social reasons. There are no standardized rules to measure food insecurity in the country. The food security targets are not made part of the 11th Five Year Plan 2013-18; however, it only includes an objective statement about reducing food insecurity. Likewise, Vision 2025 also did not include any suitable benchmark for food security. 

As per a recent survey conducted by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) amid COVID-19, 40% of Pakistani households are facing moderate or severe food insecurity. On a wide level, Pakistan has also been facing food security issues over the past few years, although the country is self-sufficient in major staple foods. The pandemic further worsens the situation in this regard. As we know that, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted across the globe in 2015 and their attainment is one of the greatest challenges across the globe. Goal-2 is to eradicate hunger from the planet by using the occurrence of Undernourishment and Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) as the key indicators. The incumbent Government in Pakistan has now also adopted these and incorporated them in its 12th Five Year Plan 2018-23 to aim and calculate the level of food security in the country. This is indeed an imperative initiative in this regard since food insecurity seems to be increasing in the country and timely measures can control the situation. 

As per the 18th constitutional amendment, the functions of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MINFA) were handed over to the provinces on June 30, 2011. The Government of Pakistan established the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFSR) after realizing the significance of attaining and maintaining national food security and enhanced execution of un-devolved functions on 26th October 2011. To deal with the challenge of food insecurity, the Government of Pakistan has taken the initiative to devise a national food security policy but over time things have changed and the need to formulate or revamp the national food security policy has become an urgent necessitate. 

The Prevalence of Undernourishment and the Prevalence of Moderate and Severe food Insecurity are the two indicators used to monitor Target 2.1 under the global SDGs monitoring framework. The POU was also the major indicator used to check the World Food Summit target and the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1C target was based on the Eradication of severe hunger and poverty. Internationally, three-year averages are used while reporting POU for each country. Once POU is estimated it is based on the information on the allocation level of dietary energy consumption among the population. This is something having dissimilarity with the predictable distribution of dietary energy needs based on the sex, age, body masses and physical activity level of the said population. To create the probability mentioning that the habitual food utilization of the average individual in the population may not succeed to cover the dietary energy mandatory for a vigorous and healthy life. In short, POU permit to estimate of the number of people who have not been able to get enough dietary energy but it does not provide any information regarding the quality of the diets and only based on information about dietary energy adequacy. Dissimilar to the POU, FIES is measured while based on people’s direct responses to queries regarding their admittance to the food of sufficient quality and quantity. While infusing FIES it becomes easy to measure the number of people who do not have access when it comes to nutritious and adequate food, owing to lack of resources or other causes. According to the report of FAO, which use an internationally decided statistical model to estimate and measure POU, over the past 15 years, Pakistan has fallen from 25.8% in 2001-03, to 20.3% in 2016-18 regarding POU. The POU has decreased since 2001-03 with a lessening that has been more pronounced up to 2007-09, then remaining at around 20% since. Notwithstanding the decrease in POU, the projected number of Undernourished people has enlarged from 37.6 million in 2002-04 to 40 million in 2016-18, because of solid population enlargement over the same period. The stagnancy in the POU and the increase in the undernourished population since 2008-10 is a repercussion of many linked events such as floods, draughts as well as inflation in the country in the past few years. All these events as a whole affected the efforts to fight out hunger in the country. 

According to the report published in 2019 by the Ministry of food in collaboration with its partner organizations, the investigation of POU by provinces showed that apart from Balochistan, POU has reduced in other three provinces since 2011-12. On the other hand, many parts of the country faced widespread floods in 2010, which appear to have contributed to the increase in elevated POU between 2010-11 as well as 2011-12. In 2015- 16, the POU was lowest in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, followed by Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa registered steady refuse since 2011-12, in Balochistan POU augmented, whereas Sindh had a mixed picture, after an early decline, POU in Sindh enlarged since 2013-14. The issue seemed to be of real concern with regards to Balochistan province. Therefore, it is also very important to mention that with increased poverty, limited access to food as well as access to nutritious food, the menace of malnutrition is threatening the lives of many Pakistanis. There is a dire need to take more actions to curb hunger in rural areas of Sindh and Balochistan. 

Regardless of enormous food production, the National Nutrition Survey of 2018 discovered that 36.9% of the population in Pakistan is food insecure. Therefore, the matter of food insecurity should be given great importance for undertaking pertinent measures. PM Imran Khan in his first speech highlighted the issue of malnutrition but still, there is not enough that has been pragmatically done to deal with the issue of chronic food insecurity in Pakistan. Although recently PM has announced to introduce a new food security policy that is highly recommended. Previously the FAO also emphasized the need for collaboration between developing countries from the region so to improve agricultural outcomes as well as share experiences among the regional countries to restrain hunger. There is an evident need for agricultural collaboration with an agenda of dropping poverty. It should also be something to focus on that without improving the distribution of wealth, the issue of hunger cannot be addressed amicably. Unfortunately, in the South Asian region, food distributive inequalities are drastic. Urgent efforts are required to cope with this problem. 

To increase the Agriculture growth, more initiative should be introduced. This can be done through the adaptation of evolved farming techniques. More training sessions of farmers should be infused. To deal with the issues of climate change, there should be a roadmap of actions and include the methods to deal with any such situation affecting the Agriculture and food security of the country. The livestock sector should also be given attention since it plays an important role in the food security of a country. 

Recently premier Imran Khan has expressed the views at the Islamabad Security Dialogue and launched the National Security Division’s (NSD). He categorically said, “We are slowly realizing that national security relates to areas which no one thinks about. National security today includes many aspects that have been ignored in previous decades, including climate change, food security and economic prosperity”. This is something encouraging that the current government is well aware of all these challenges and feels the need to cope with them. 

Newsletter SignUp

About Saima Zaman 32 Articles
Writer is the Assistant Editor ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’, ‘The Asian Telegraph’ & Project Coordinator (COPAIR); a degree holder in communication & media sciences.