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“Pakistan has become a food importing country”. The sentence has been making rounds in the parliament, talk shows, and opinions pieces. It has been said in ways of admission and criticism alike. The statement is not factually incorrect either. But what is perplexing is how is this newsworthy. This statement was true five, ten, 20, and even 30 years ago. Yes, even back in 1990, Pakistan was a net food importer.

In the last 18 years, Pakistan has been a net food exporter for only three years – and that too marginally. The highest net food exports were recorded in FY13, with just $228 million. Average yearly net food trade since FY04 sits at $609 million. The reports dating back to 1990 show Pakistan’s food trade was in deficit from 1990-1998 – with an average net import value of $550 million.

So, why is everyone so worried about Pakistan being a net food importer all of a sudden? The biggest food import bill ever, for one, comes to mind. What could possibly have caused more uproar is the return of wheat imports after a very long time. Wheat imports at c. $1 billion as the government earlier tried to beef up stocks in a bid to control prices at home made quite a few headlines. Sugar too was imported- highest in ten years, although a miniscule portion of overall food imports, but carries optics.

These are two homegrown crops which were imported after a long gap in sizeable sums, and that is where the narrative gathers more steam. Persistently high food inflation in double-digits too seems to have played a role. The food trade balance has an interesting relationship with the FAO price index, but not a definitive one. FY21 food import bill could well be an anomaly, but Pakistan’s growing consumption should keep the overall trend going.

Pakistan’s food exports have not instilled much confidence either, especially with rice exports slowing down, which could well become a permanent feature. International commodity price movements will keep altering the magnitude of Pakistan’s net food trade balance – but it is likely to remain negative – as it has for most part of 30 years. Next time you hear someone say, “Pakistan has become a net food importing country”, just add “Yes, but that was 30 years ago”.

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ishaque anjum Jun 25, 2021 12:59pm
A SAD scenario - What is the function of Ministry of Food Security? are they ONLY to enjoy the perks and privileges - and more over LIP SERVICE.
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