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Food insecurity: is there a way out?

AT a time when the United Nations is at its midpoint campaign to reduce global poverty and improve living standards of the world's bottom billion, a rapidly escalating global food crisis has emerged as a serious challenge to its Millennium Development Goals.

The food shortages coupled with sky-rocketing prices of food items is threatening global food security. The World Bank estimates that the doubling of food prices over the last three years could push 100 million people in low-income countries deeper into poverty,

Many developing countries which have surplus production of food stuff have also started thinking of remodeling their export policies. Some countries including Pakistan are taking short-and long-term measures to achieve food security.

A major factor responsible for food crisis is the shift from agriculture to industry by many countries, which could perform better in agro-sector as compared with manufacturing. As a result of inadequate attention towards the agricultural sector, the production level has fallen drastically as compared to the ever-growing consumption. According to the figures provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2006, both world agricultural production and food production rose by less than one per cent. As a consequence, per capita food production is estimated to have fallen by about 0.2 per cent; the first such decline since 1993.

Much of the poor performance of world agriculture in 2006 was due to disappointing cereal production, which fell for the second consecutive year. The decline was caused by a contraction in wheat output, down five per cent, and coarse grains, down three per cent, while rice production was virtually unchanged. On the other hand, practically all the other crop sectors did well, especially edible oil, sugar and vegetables.

Seen from a longer perspective, the world agricultural production increased annually by 2.2 per cent over the 10 years (1996-2006), resulting from a 2.2 per cent growth in crop production and 2.4 per cent in livestock production. The pace of growth was much slower for cereals, which grew by just 0.8 percent over the 10 years. This clearly means that the production level was not compatible with the consumption pattern that has increased 1.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent.

Like some other countries, Pakistan is also faced with enormous challenges including food and increasing prices. The government is taking short-term arrangement but will have to take long-term policy measures to ensure the access of common man to essential food items.

As a result of absence of long-term planning, the country is now more dependent on imported food stuff wheat, palm oil, raw cotton and farm inputs like fertilizer.

Agriculture continues to be a dominant driving force for growth and the main source of livelihood for 66 per cent of the country's population. It accounts for 20.9 percent of the GDP and employs 43.4 per cent of the total workforce. As such agriculture is the engine of economic growth and poverty reduction.

The agriculture growth has experienced mixed trends over the last six year. The country witnessed unprecedented drought during the first two years of the decade i.e. (2000-01 and 2001-02), registering negative growth. In the following years (2002-03 to 2004-05), relatively better availability of irrigation water had a positive impact on overall agricultural growth. It made modest to strong recovery. The performance of agriculture remained weak during 2005-06 because major crops could not perform up to the expectations.

Growth in the agriculture sector registered a sharp recovery in 2006-07 and grew by five per cent as against the preceding year's growth of 1.6 per cent but the output was lower than the increasing consumption.

For sustainable food security at national and household levels, states need to provide its people an easy access to sufficient food. This requires institutional capacity and capability, which many developing countries including Pakistan lack at present.

Food availability, the first pillar of food security, was assessed on the basis of food production and consumption. Out of 120 district settings in Pakistan, 74 (62 per cent) were found to be food deficit in terms of net availability. This deficit varied from low through high to extreme degree. Wheat, a staple, catering to 48 per cent of caloric needs, was found deficit in terms of net availability and the shortage was estimated at 3.2 million tons annually. Out of 120 districts, only 48 (40 per cent) were producing surplus to cater to the needs of these districts. In other words, 72 districts (60 per cent) were deficient in wheat availability.

Among 29 wheat surplus districts, 69 per cent were in Punjab, 21 per cent in Sindh and 10 per cent in Balochistan. FSA 2003 ranked, in terms of availability, NWFP, Northern Areas (NAs) and AJK as net food in-secure. This state of insecurity, translated into caloric supply at provincial level, revealed that in NWFP caloric poverty in terms of its incidence was the most prevalent as only 1106 K cals per capita were available from the provincial resources. This caloric shortfall leads towards hunger.

Mega cities pitted against mounting population pressure are also being adversely affected. For example, even in wheat surplus province of Punjab, the provincial capital Lahore, home to 81 per cent of the district population, was among the net food insecure zones in terms of availability.

In Sindh, six out of 17 (35 percent) districts were wheat surplus and only eight (47 per cent) were in self-reliant bracket as against nine {53 percent) wheat insecure districts. It suggests that even Sindh, the second largest wheat-producing province, was deficit in terms of wheat availability. In Balochistan, only three (12 percent) out of 26 districts were production surplus as against IS (69 percent) wheat deficit districts. In NWFP; there is no wheat surplus district and only two (eight per cent) out of 24 districts were self-reliant in wheat production.

In case of rice, the second staple, only 37 (31 per cent) out of 120 districts were found to be production surplus. Of these, 57 per cent were in Punjab, 19 per cent in NWFP, 16 percent in Sindh, five per cent in Balochistan and three percent in F ATA. In Punjab, 71 percent of districts had either surplus production or had enough rice to meet local needs, and 29 percent of districts experienced varying degree of deficit in rice. In Sindh, out of 17 only six (35 per cent) districts were surplus, while 65 percent of districts were deficit in rice production, compared to 53 percent deficit in wheat.

In case of NWFP, rice availability was better, as 10 (42 per cent) districts out of 24 had surplus production or they were self-reliant, compared to wheat where 22 districts were deficient in wheat.


Cereals meet one-half of caloric needs in developing countries. On net cereal availability basis, out of 120 districts 31 (26 percent) had surplus production. Of these, 23 were in Punjab, five in Sindh and three in Balochistan. There were yet another 21 (18 percent) districts that could meet their local needs. In sum, 52 (43 per cent) of the districts in Pakistan were found self-reliant in net cereal availability and remaining 68 (57 per cent) were deficit in cereals.

On overall crop-based food availability (exclusive of livestock products) out of 120 districts, 39 (32 per cent) had surplus production, six (5 percent) were self-reliant while 35 (29 percent) were extremely insecure and 40 (33 percent) experienced deficit of low to high degree. This suggests that net crop-based food availability, compared to net cereals or wheat/rice availability was better.

The crop and food situation is not as bad as it is being interpreted. The current food crisis is neither of severe type nor is the country serious food deficient. In fact the food resources are poorly managed.

The thrust of the government to increase export volume is one of the reasons that helped widening demand and supply gap.

The study conducted by UN in context of food crisis hi Pakistan in 2003, has rightly indicated loopholes in the agriculture system and also provides some tangible proposals; however, a strong commitment is earnestly required by stakeholders to execute such policy recommendations.
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Comment:Food insecurity: is there a way out?
Author:Tabish, Muhammad Iqbal
Publication:Economic Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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