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Food Insecurity: Time for a Radical Makeover

Afia Salam.jpg
Afia Salam
Journalist and Environment Activist, Member National Climate Change Council, Chairperson Indus Earth Trust

The events of 2022 have a direct bearing on what Pakistan is expected to deal with in 2023. Due to a mix of internal and external factors, 2022 saw Pakistan falling short of meeting its food production requirements. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, agriculture is the largest sector of Pakistan, employing the greatest number of persons. However, its contribution to the country’s GDP still fails to exceed 25%.

At the end of 2022, all reasons for the shortfall focused on the devastating floods that inundated a vast swathe of the country’s cropland. However, one must remember that this crisis snowballed after the loss of a season, the spring, due to climate change bringing in its wake an intense heat wave immediately after winter. The sudden onset of heat, coupled with lack of release of water flows to the south of the country meant that we were saddled with the fear of at least 2 million tons of wheat shortfall.

External factors like the Ukraine war disrupted global energy and grains supply chains, and then came the deluge in August 2022 which inundated 9.4 million acres of cropland, with most of the damage occurring in Sindh and Balochistan. This meant that the figure earlier quoted for the wheat shortfall occurring due to heat and lack of availability of water suddenly jumped manifold. The damage, however, extended far beyond wheat, as cotton as well as fruit orchards and other grains and cereals were all negatively impacted.

Four months later, predictions for 2023 do not seem to be positive, as many agricultural districts, especially in Sindh, remain under water. The standing water has destroyed crops, and also degraded soil quality. As for farmers in impacted areas, they have lost their opportunity to sow next season’s food and cash crop, and many are struggling to recover from the damage suffered.

The government has announced a mega Kisaan Package to provide relief to impacted farmers. Farming communities are debating the effectiveness of such interventions and how trickle-down can be made to work better. As for existing banking loan approval and disbursement mechanisms, these are cumbersome and leaves the poorest farmer out of its ambit, and have nothing to offer farmers in the inundated districts where at least a two, if not three, crop cycle losses are being feared.

Consequently, going forward into 2023, we are looking at a hike in the prices of food items, especially grains and cereals, and an increase in financial woes of those in the agri-sector involved in the cultivation of cotton, which could have provided a buffer against financial ruin for farmers, as well as the textile sector dependent on them.

Keeping in sight that this sector is the largest earner of foreign exchange and also feeds not only the entire population of Pakistan but also a substantial population of Afghanistan, things look sombre. Unless some radical measures are taken to arrest this slide, quick recovery of the agri-sector will be very difficult.

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