Fighting hunger — a clarion call

By Raja Taimur Hassan

April 3, 2014

When the government fails to meet the basic needs of the people, the havens of terror often appear. Hunger, poverty and deprivation are widely debated to be the primary causes of conflict and violence in a society. Without ensuring an individual’s security, one cannot guarantee national security.

Upon examination, we find that our national security is closely linked with food security. The alarming fact is that 58 per cent of the total population in the country is food insecure. Sindh is the most food-deprived province, followed by Balochistan. Seventy-two per cent of the families in Sindh and 63.5 per cent in Balochistan are facing food insecurity, of which almost 50 per cent women and children are malnourished.

Knowing all these facts, the government of Sindh has yet to prepare any plan to cope with the alarming situation in Thar. According to media reports, wheat and other basic food items are being distributed in Tharparkar on the basis of 1998 census, considering the population has actually doubled since then.

Other pressing challenges, such as extreme weather events, surging food prices and devastating floods continue to affect the poor and the most vulnerable. A majority of them migrate and others make ends meet by eating fewer meals per day and selling off their land and livestock.

In Pakistan, more than 10 million children (45 per cent) under the age of five are suffering from chronic malnourishment. Of these, 3.5 million children (15 per cent) are acutely malnourished. Malnutrition contributes directly or indirectly to almost 45 per cent of all deaths among children of age five in Pakistan and some 43 per cent of the children under the age of five are stunted. Malnutrition among children is also undermining their learning abilities.

Unlike other basic human rights, such as health and education, the Constitution of Pakistan also ensures the right to food for every citizen. However, the policy draft on “agriculture and food security” presented in the cabinet by the Ministry of National Food Security & Research fails to address the food security and nutrition issue. The policy draft is no more than a scientifically lopsided wish list. Food security cannot be ensured only by increasing the availability of food. The draft only focuses on availability of food, but lacks other aspects of accessibility which include physical, social and economic aspects that govern the provision of sufficient food.

There is also no mention of the national “Zero Hunger” programme, which was inaugurated by former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in March 2012. The framework for this programme is ready and all it needs is funding.

Availability of food at the right place at the right time is an important issue. There is no centralised coordination mechanism discussed in the policy draft at the federal level. There have been no clear guidelines and no concrete governance measures have been suggested for water management and agricultural land utilisation. Ways and means for enhancing production, sustainable irrigation are some other major links missing in the draft.

Climate change is now becoming a serious threat to individuals and to national security. In the last five years, our country has been hit hard by natural disasters, extreme weather events and devastating floods, which have resulted in mass displacement of people and the loss of billions of dollars.

High illiteracy, weak linkages with research, poor reach to far-off farmers and lack of awareness are some critical constraints to agriculture development in Pakistan — whereas China and Brazil have raised their agriculture production to double the produce per hectare as compared to Pakistan.

In Pakistan, educating the farmers and arming them with new technology can build their capacity. The enhanced income, especially of small farmers, will contribute towards reducing poverty and hunger in rural areas. As an outcome, such efforts would contribute towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving world poverty and hunger. Courtesy Express Tribune,

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