KARACHI: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has warned that the country may face higher risks to food security in the wake of growing population and global warming. According to the SBP’s annual report issued Wednesday, the agriculture sector has been growing at a steady rate during the past few years on average around 3.9 percent per annum in the last 3 years.

The performance of the crop sector is even more impressive, which has grown at 6.3 percent during the same period. However, despite this performance, the country had to import food products worth $ 9.0 billion while exports amounted to $ 5.4 billion during FY22, resulting in a trade deficit of $ 3.6 billion in net food exports.

The SBP said there is a growing cause for concern for food security in Pakistan as it had to import wheat, a staple food, in significant volume for the second year running. As the world grapples with rising global temperature, changing rainfall patterns and extreme weather events, the spillover of climate change to food security in regions such as Pakistan is becoming a source of concern for various reasons.

While the policymakers have traditionally relied on price intervention and input subsidies to ensure Pakistan is food-secure, the challenges to food security will intensify under climate change from floods, low productivity, poor infrastructure, among other factors.

Pakistan is the 8th most affected country by climate change due to rising global temperatures losing around 0.5 percent of GDP in 173 climate-related catastrophes from 2000-19. In the worst-case scenario, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) estimates average annual losses in Pakistan can be up to 9.1 percent of GDP, which would be the highest in South Asia.

Due to these vulnerabilities, the impact of climate change on food security needs to be evaluated in Pakistan, which would facilitate the policymakers to adapt, or mitigate these risks. Ensuring food security in Pakistan is primarily linked to wheat-the staple food.

The report said that availability and stability in prices of the wheat crop is of critical importance due to its wide-ranging impact, especially on the most vulnerable segment of the society. Increasing temperatures will significantly increase the risks to Pakistan’s food security since 77.5 percent of the agricultural production takes place in arid regions where temperatures are likely to increase more than in other climatic zones.

The report mentioned that there are multiple channels through which food security will come under stress in Pakistan. This included little room to expand area under cultivation (in particular for wheat) in the short to medium term under the prevailing technological constraints, availability of water in the Rabi season acting as a constraint in the canal-irrigated areas of Pakistan and Land degradation due to imbalanced used of fertilizer and also water logging.

Climate change is likely to slow down the progress in future for instance global wheat yields are likely to drop by 17 percent globally due to changing weather patterns and incessant population growth rate is posing resource availability challenges in addition to rising threat of locusts, especially in the rice-wheat farm systems.

The report said that climate change poses additional risks to these estimates that would increase the demand-supply gap. There are several policy options that can be considered to counter the threat of climate change to food security, it added.

“There is a need to increase policy focus on introducing high-yielding varieties of wheat through research and development. Reducing some inefficient subsidies for input, such as water and gas, may help increase fiscal space,” the report suggested.

Imposition of carbon tax with border carbon adjustment will increase public revenues to fight climate change adversities. Food security in Pakistan has mostly focused on the availability of critical food items.

Concentrating on other aspects of food security such as accessibility, utilization and stability may be more beneficial in the long run, the report said and added that this may lead to decreased reliance on wheat and shifting to more balanced diet that may, in turn, also reduce rate of malnourishment and stunted growth.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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