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Coronavirus
LOW
Source: covid.gov.pk
Pakistan Deaths
28,793
924hr
Pakistan Cases
1,287,703
31024hr
Sindh
477,119
Punjab
443,610
Balochistan
33,514
Islamabad
107,989
KPK
180,471

EDITORIAL: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has warned countries to brace for future shocks to their agriculture-food system from floods, droughts, or diseases. According to FAO website, between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020. Previously, the number had fallen from 811 million in 2005 to 651 million in 2019. However, the economic fallout of the pandemic is pushing the marginalised sections within nations down to starvation. Earlier, in 2020, there was a case of massive job losses across the board due to lockdowns. Now, in the aftermath, the increase in food and other commodity prices is making life hard for poorer segments of the world.

The problem is high in the underdeveloped and third world countries. Despite being an agrarian society, Pakistan is facing unprecedentedly high food inflation. The food price index in the CPI has increased by 48 percent since the PTI government came to power. The purchasing power of the marginalised segments is eroding fast. The malnutrition indictors in Pakistan have already worsened relative to India and Bangladesh over the past decade or two. This situation is worsening due to high food inflation.

Climate change, too, is taking its toll. Since 2010, floods in Pakistan have become more frequent and that is adversely impacting the food production. Going forward, reports suggest that a drought-like situation will be faced with higher frequency. Already, crop production in Pakistan is hamstrung by changing weather patterns. Different crops have varying requirements for sowing and harvesting in different areas. If the temperature rises earlier or the rainfall timing changes, the productivity of crops is impacted. And when the supply disrupts, prices increase and the reliance on imports enhances.

Yields of staple crops are either stagnating or falling and at the same time, the acreage under cultivation is reducing too due to fast conversion of agriculture lands into non-agriculture estates. The unplanned urban sprawls are increasing within peri-urban population that is mostly living on farm land. The population of the country is growing at a pace that is higher than others in the region while the area and productivity of crops are on a decline. This has resulted in an increasing reliance on imports to meet our needs of food supply that poses a serious challenge to the overall food security of the country.

Pakistan’s yearly net food imports during FY1997 to 2007 stood at $450 million per annum and that number increased to an average of $847 million during FY2008 to 2020. The net food imports stood at whopping $4 billion in FY21 — by far the highest number ever, as the previous highest peak was $2.4 billion in FY17. The data is supplemented by higher food inflation the country is facing since FY08. The yearly food inflation averaged at 6.5 percent during FY97-07 while the number has increased by almost half to average at 9.9 percent during FY08-21. The food price index has increased by 4 times since 2008.

One reason for higher food inflation is regular increases in support prices. The agriculturist lobby keeps pushing for increase in support prices every now and then. Ours is an overly-regulated food market with a significant footprint of the government in regulating supply and prices of staples such as wheat and sugar that has further exacerbated the problem. The government must work towards incentivizing farmers to enhance yields rather than giving them support price increase in one or two crops which results in adverse selection. The increased use of mechanization, optimal mix of fertilizer, proper crop rotation based on soil testing and bringing barren land into use through optimal water supply and other techniques should be incentivized. And there should be an effective ban on conversion of agriculture land to residential and commercial properties. Food security is imperative for improving nutrition indicators, and this has a direct impact on the labour productivity. There is, therefore, the need for making concerted efforts aimed at achieving food security or self-sufficiency without any further loss of time.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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