The recommendations we are going to discuss here may create unrealistic expectations from the authorities as we are stuck with useless governance and running down them for their worthlessness doesn’t seem to work anymore, nonetheless, we are trying to put the puzzle pieces at their right places to offer a way of ditching the catastrophe we all see approaching- massive food insecurity in Pakistan.
Pakistan records a new birth every 5 seconds, while one death every twenty seconds, marking a net gain of one person every 7 seconds. Are we capable enough to match the pace of rising population with current food production to ensure the survival of the masses?
To our dismay, Pakistan while being an agrarian economy continues to increase food imports to feed the rising number of stomachs. As per the figures reported by PBS (Pakistan Bureau of Statistics), Pakistan has documented 68.61% increase in food imports during Jul-Sep 2022 compared to Jul-Sep 2021.
The increase is massive that makes us wonder what tsunami we have turned blind towards considering the already severe food scarcity as we see malnutrition children in many remote areas of the country.
Wheat, one of the basic commodities of survival, has remained one of the top imports and has shot up by a staggering 311% during Jul-Sep 2022 while overall wheat’s import bill for the past year was a whopping Rs. 68.49 billion. It’s strange that the country that was once a wheat exporter is importing in bulks owing to short local production, or should we say, self-created shortage.
Importing food commodities has become inevitable since the country has failed to meet the demands and market mafias and hoarders in this situation try to make hay while the sun shines. There is a murky phenomenon that shows how far hoarders go to serve their purposes.
In situations where an economy experiences stiff supply availability like today, hoarders are there to create self-fulfilling prophecies and inflation, as they stock up commodities at lower rates and create further shortages.
As their only defense mechanism against the hoarders, government starts to import to counter scarcity to ensure supply, contributing to inflation.
Market mafias being true to their name, stalk the situation, pounce the target and play their cards right by easing the stocked up supply at current higher rates, illegally maximizing their profit margins and suffocating the poverty-stricken population. Apart from wheat, nation should now brace themselves for upcoming sugar crises since the mafias have started to illegally smuggle sugar across the borders and ready to clamp their jaws around people’s throats.
All the efforts seemingly made by the authorities to rejuvenate our agriculture sector and to reach its potential to make most out of it, a plethora of policies have been made but all go in vain since the statistics show story the other way around.
As per the data extracted from PBS, over the decade, the cultivated land has remained static as the total cultivated area in 2010-2011 was 22.10 million hectare and 22.74 million hectare in 2019-2020 with slight fluctuations during the decade.
Worse still, we have not even fully utilized the land available for cultivation let alone spending on the said sector to expand since, currently, total agricultural land available for cultivation is 34.85 million hectares, highlighting millions of hectares being unused and the authorities being unable to realize the sensitivity of the matter.
The facts stated above are the background and we are dreading the future. Rapid urbanization is engulfing the cultivable land, shrinking the area which is being actively sown and harvested. Illegal ways are being adapted to make the land legally available for construction.
Moreover, in many parts of the country, we see representatives of the government deliberately involved in white-washing the green land to secure land for their own purposes as they deviate stream flows away from the farm land to cut water supply, only to convert them into a waste land.
On the other hand, small land holders and working farmers anticipating the future are making rural to urban migration for better earning opportunities, unaware of the harsh realities the current urban sector of the country offers.
High inflation rates and meager unemployment opportunities are taking whatever they have, making them completely clueless about how to make ends meet. While the regulators blatantly claim that they are well managing the shortage by importing, they are very casually ignoring the repercussions-rising food prices.
Being unable to afford what is easily available in markets is very much equivalent to the food crises that majority of the population is facing. Newspapers reporting the news of people for getting killed in free wheat flour stampedes shows how acute inflation is causing a staggering humanitarian crisis.
As the population increase is tipping the balance against food security in our hard pressed developing country, focusing entirely on imports alone and disregarding agriculture sector that can control this havoc is certainly not the right choice to tackle the situation.
Given the current population level, it is critical to anticipate future requirements. Better resource management will go a long way towards improving crop yields and controlling agricultural waste along with safeguarding the livelihoods of rural population. This needs an equal commitment from both public and private sectors to make the sector attractive for the farmers and ensuring proper distribution patterns by tracking the rural urban migration trends.
Investing in climate resilient agriculture is also crucial since rapid climate changes have disturbed the production patterns while “illiteracy” of farming community and scarcity of essential resources put in danger whatever they manage to produce. Public Private Partnerships (PPIs) can help in leveraging mobile technologies to farmers, which could assist farmers predict future rainfall patterns and optimize crop patterns.
Additionally, providing drone technologies may also fasten up the cultivation process. To tackle the mafias and take the agri. sector out of the terminal stage, the focus of these partnerships should be on prioritizing social returns over financial returns at start. Banking sector has been providing agri. loans to the farming community; however, disseminating a specific amount won’t do any good unless a purpose-based program is put in place to extract the maximum utility out of these lending.
The crux of the matter is that the government is only delaying the acute food crises by importing, since amid the alarming forex exchange situation, how long can we afford to purchase commodities that we can produce ourselves, or is it a deliberate attempt to window-dressing while they rule and putting nation’s future survival at stake?
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023
Waqas Ahmad is a Fellow Member of Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan and have vast experience in strategic management and planning in the financial sector.