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PR Short Notes


Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 211, 23 September 2021

Brewing Food Insecurity and soaring inflation in Pakistan



Pakistan is stumbling to meet the requirements of food security, that includes availability, accessibility, utilization and stability

Sneha M
Postgraduate Scholar, Department of International Studies, Political Science and History, CHRIST (Deemed to be University)

Pakistan's food security situation is perilous, and the government has attempted to solve the problem. The country's first food security policy was adopted in 2018. The policy aims to reduce poverty, eliminate hunger, and promote long-term food production. Nevertheless, the government must push for social and cultural shifts to address soaring population growth. A population explosion marred by poverty and food insecurity will, in turn, threaten national security, as emphasized by PM Imran Khan at the National Kissan Convention 2021 in Islamabad. 

Pakistan is marred by socio-economic implications induced by the pandemic and a long-standing structural rearrangement. Where is Pakistan today, in terms of meeting the challenges of food security? What is the level of food availability and food access? And what about food utilization and food stability? This note looks at these four questions: availability, access, utilization, and stability.

The World Food Summit in 1996 defined food security as “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” In contrast, food insecurity can be defined as a situation of “limited availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food or limited ability to acquire or access food in the society.” The Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations have identified four pillars of food security; availability, accessibility, utilization, and stability. Now, having this as a benchmark, we will analyze the current situation in Pakistan. 

Food availability can be characterized by a sufficient and appropriate quantity of food mainly available domestically or through imports. Pakistan’s economic survey 2020-2021 reveals that despite disruptions induced by the pandemic, the agriculture sector has reasonably performed well. However, in the last few days, Pakistan’s food import bill has widened by over 50per cent from $0.980bn to $1.473bn in the first few months of the current fiscal year. It is a sign that the country is unable to meet domestic demand and lacks self-sufficiency in necessary food items due to various challenges. (Sugar, wheat, palm oil, and pulses-imported). This persistent food import bill will have a lasting impact on the BOP and the food security situation in the country. 

Food accessibility is linked with the social status of its citizens. Although per capita income has increased during the last decade, growing food prices have outpaced this gain. Hence leading to decline in purchasing power parity. "Food insecurity affects 36.9% of Pakistan's population, according to the most recent National Nutrition Survey.". Food costs in Pakistan have risen dramatically, with food price inflation 31 percent higher in July than last year. In simple logic, if the agricultural output productivity is high and simultaneously, the affordability of the food items are out of reach, then such availability has less value in the economy. 

Food utilization can be defined as individuals' ability to use the food they have access to effectively. This will be accomplished through healthy food, safe drinking water, sanitation, and health care, which will meet all of their nutritional and physiological requirements. This is very challenging to Pakistan because of; one, the inaccessibility of food; two, due to socioeconomic differences between different classes in the country. According to World Food Programme, Pakistan is home to a 20.5% undernourished population and the second highest malnutrition rate in the region. In terms of attaining quality and standard of food, safe drinking water, sanitation, and health care, the country has not performed well. Therefore, food and utilization continue to be the main limitation in the country with more than half of the population consuming less than the recommended caloric intake.

Food stability refers to the ability of an individual to acquire food over time. If it depends on time, then it is directly acquainted with the employment of the people. In order to afford food, one has to have a stable income. Nevertheless, in developing countries like Pakistan, where contract-based and short-term employment is high, food stability becomes a pertinent issue. 

Pakistan’s food systems are crashing in more than one way, and it calls for immediate counter-measures. The government will have to move a step forward in creating a reward and recognition system. Incentivizing to adopt newer agricultural methods and technologies will reap benefits quicker. Additionally, twin shocks of pandemic and invasion of locusts have left many inaccessible to purchase nutritious food. Moreover, if the current inflation rates continue to rise, it might lead to an increase in food insecure population.

In order to avoid this, the only way forward is to exacerbate policy implementation, reflecting the inclusiveness of the people's voice. With the help of international organizations and close coordination between federal and provincial governments, the government must use its potential to establish social protection policies. Even so, is the country equipped to undergo a structural shift and implement effective policies? If not, the economic downturns will backslide any policies implemented to tackle food insecurity.

References
Mubarak Zeb Khan, “Food import bill surges by over 50per cent to $1.473bn,” Dawn, 18 September 2021.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, May 2021
Rising Food Insecurity,” The Express Tribune, 04 September 2021
WFP Pakistan Country Brief,” World Food Programme, United Nations, August 2021.
Phoebe Sleet, “Food Security in Pakistan: Surplus Food is not enough to create a food secure country,” Future Directions, 09 April 2019

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