Pakistan’s food crisis



November 21, 2014 – By Shah Faisal Afridi –

There is an emergent need to reorganize the agriculture sector of the country, and bring about the revolution in the production of agriculture. The agriculture lands are being drastically reduced in the country and Food-related social unrest is putting burdens on already weak or borderline governance systems in Pakistan, which is experiencing persistent food insecurity. If the country faces recurrent food crises in the future, this situation could deteriorate further. How much patience will the people of Pakistan be prepared to continue to show?

The world’s financial experts have placed Pakistan on a list of 36 countries that face a serious food crisis. Like rest of the world Pakistan is also facing food crisis that has two sides; one is unavailability of edibles and second is soaring prices due to gap in demand and supply of edibles. A recent analysis of the causes  and  consequences  of  Pakistan’s food insecurity points out that food security has been under constant threat since 2008, when world food prices reached their highest levels and Pakistan’s food inflation registered as high as 34%. World  Food  Programme  (WFP)  data  from  2008 concluded  that  77  million  Pakistanis  –  nearly  half  the  country’s population  –  were  going  hungry.

Pakistan is  an  agriculture  economy  where  more than seventy percent  of the  population  is  directly  or  indirectly  depending  on  agriculture.  This vital sector has been contributing more than 24% to our GDP. In spite of its vital significance the economy is facing challenges of food deficiency. Analysts observed that food crisis in Pakistan come hand in hand with an energy crisis and uncertain political environment along with the extremist threats. It is expected that food and energy shortages could become worse in Future. More problem appears to those economies that are not agriculture based and Pakistan is a wheat and rice producing country and shouldn’t have had to face an acute shortage. A very important question arises here how did it get to this stage?

The impact of floods on economy and agriculture has been devastating in Pakistan. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that, more than 20 million people had been displaced by the flood and some estimates the damage to crops, housing, other buildings, roads, and irriga-tion infrastructure now reached $6.5 billion. Huge numbers of people still suffer from lack of shelter, hunger  and  disease,  and  winter  is  approaching,  when  in  many parts of the country temperatures can fall below zero centi-grade.

Therefore “individual hunger in Pakistan needs to be seen as a national security threat, not just charity work . Whatever the improvements in Pakistan’s food security responses, they will be meaningless without addressing the underlying structural causes of poor governance, skewed resource allocations and severe inequality including the highly unequal distribution  of  land  ownership.

The skyrocketing prices are jeopardizing the purchasing power of financially crumbling consumers. The price of food items such as vegetables, chicken and meat has increased by more than 20 percent just in one month, which has further made the half of the population of
country food insecure. It is stated that 50 percent of the population is talking less calories recognized for average human need.

The situation of food shortage in Pakistan calls for a multi-sectoral strategy to address this serious issue. It is also important to note that Ministry of Finance alone cannot provide a solution to the worsening problem. Pakistan needs cohesive strategy including the focus on revising the import parity; pricing formula and revised structure of taxes levied on petroleum products, further demand and supply management in energy sector, agriculture, and communication. It is also suggested that the Planning Commission of Pakistan should take lead in formulating proposals in this regard.

Agriculture scientists will have to introduce modern technologies for high yield at low price to enable the government to cope with the persistent crisis of food shortage. We can observe examples of various countries like Brazil, India, China and Philippines which became self sufficient in the food production by the adaptation of the biotech crops and Eco Friendly Cultivation model.

China has achieved great success in increasing crop yield, China, accounting for only 10 percent of arable land, produces food for 20 percent of the world’s population and it ranks first in worldwide farm output. “It is because they have devised different techniques to increase the yield of crops just by making use of nature, and such farming model is termed as, “ECO-FARMING”. Ecological Farming ensures healthy farming and healthy food for today and tomorrow, by protecting soil, water and climate, and does not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs.

The current model of destructive, polluting agriculture relies on expensive non-renewable and artificial resources (fossil fuels, pesticides and agrochemicals) that damage the basic natural resources needed for food production. Destructive agriculture pollutes nature with synthetic fertilizers and toxic chemicals that strip the soil of its fertility harm biodiversity and destroy nature’s capacity to keep pests and disease under control.

Chinese scientists and farmers in Yunnan during 1998 and 1999, demonstrated the benefits of biodiversity in fighting rice blast, the major disease of rice, caused by a fungus, by growing a simple mixture of rice varieties across thousands of farms in China. Fungicidal sprays were no longer applied by the end of the two-year program.

A recent analysis showed that globally, ecological farming can produce, on average, about 30 percent more food per hectare than conventional agriculture. Pakistan’s per hectare rice yield is 3.1 ton whereas China is the largest producer of rice with per hectare yield of 6.5 ton, similarly Pakistan produces pulses per year with per hectare yield of 0.6 ton and China produces 1.2 ton per hectare which is twice that of Pakistan. Pakistan’s sugarcane production is 52.4 ton per hectare whereas China obtains a yield of 65.7 ton per hectare.

Some of the interesting techniques implied by China under the cultivation model of “ECO-FARMING” are Rice Duck Farming; in which ducks are raised on rice paddies and feed on pests and weeds, which means the farmer doesn’t have to use earth and water-ravaging chemical pesticides and herbicides on their plants. Duck droppings are also an excellent, natural fertilizer for rice plants. Similarly, growing two or more crops in proximity helps reduce disease outbreaks. The technique is particularly effective at reducing loss from rice blast disease, a destructive fungus that causes damage on panicles and leaves, killing them before rice grains
form. Therefore Chinese cultivation pattern is the best model to be implemented, on the land of Pakistan in order to cope with the upcoming expected food crises.

Defining the strategy to ensure food security, Government should allocate land to locals in association with Chinese to obtain farm productivity on the same pattern as Chinese are doing. Corporate farming trend should be introduced to compensate rising inflation and high input prices through which agricultural productivity can be increased, he added.

Cooperative society model could be introduced Under specialized technical support with Chinese collaboration through national productivity organization in Pakistan where people can join hands, pool their resources-invest and deduct all expenses to share fortune.

Chinese Model of Eco- Farming ensures healthy farming and healthy food for today and tomorrow, by protecting soil, water and climate, promotes biodiversity, and does not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs or genetic engineering.

The writer is a professional businessman and CEO of Ruba SEZ Group. He received his formal education from Stamford College, Singapore and afterwards joined the family business and gained extensive experience in business management

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