A senior economist at the State Bank of Pakistan, Asma Khalid, has said that a rising population and climate change will create challenges for Pakistan to secure food.

Speaking at an interactive seminar titled “Food Security in Pakistan”, which was organized by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) at its Karachi office as well as at its regional office in Lahore and capital office in Islamabad via zoom video link, she said that the per capita consumption of food products that possess high-nutritional value like beef, chicken, fish, milk, vegetables and fruits is almost 6-10 times lower than that in developed countries which affects the labor productivity and young population.

Asma Khalid said that Pakistan ranked 106th among 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index, and has been characterized as facing a “serious” level of hunger due to undernourishment, micronutrient (iron, calcium, vitamin-A) deficiencies and a deficit of safe drinking water.

Under-5 malnutrition costs around US$7.5 billion every year, which is equivalent to 3 percent of the GDP and the cost comprises loss of future labor force, high under-5 mortality rate, low labor productivity emanating from stunting, anemia or iodine deficiencies in childhood, and prevalence of chronic weakness and fatigue etc.

She also emphasized on the need for support price for all crops and agriculture insurance in order to support the farmers.

“Almost 37 percent of our population is food insecure despite the fact that Pakistan is self-sufficient in major staples at present, and the main problem is access and affordability,” said Shaikh Sultan Rehman, vice president of the FPCCI.

He emphasized on the need for food security in Pakistan which has high linkage with human capital and strong economic implications.

While highlighting the facts and figures of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, he said that high rate of malnutrition can dent around 3-4 percent of the GDP which mainly affects our young generation mainly due to rising of death rate, malnutrition and low future productivity.

Rehman told the audience that globally Pakistan ranked 8th in production of wheat, 10th in rice, 5th in sugarcane and 4th in milk production, and yet Pakistan occasionally faced shortage of these produce.

The vice president of the FPCCI added that hoarding and smuggling are other issues contributing to food shortages in Pakistan.

He underscored the need for implementation of the National Food Security Policy announced in 2018. The policy had envisaged increasing of agriculture production by four percent annually besides giving attention to agriculture research.

Khurram Ijaz, another vice president of the FPCCI, expressed his concerns over locust attacks which affected agriculture productivity.

Dr. Rafique Ahmed Chandio, director-general of the Agriculture Policy Institute, discussed different dimensions of food security, namely, productivity, availability of variety of food, accessibility and affordability. He called for strong coordination between federal and provincial governments and the private sector.

He said that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased poverty and unemployment in Pakistan which may deepen food insecurity in Pakistan. The government has initiated different programs in order to overcome poverty and unemployment, but institutions’ response is very weak due to insufficient data availability.

Moreover, the policies of the World Trade Organization, unfair trade regimes and tariff rationalization are hurting agriculture investment in Pakistan.

Muhammad Khalid Qaim Khani, additional director of Food and Finance, Sindh government, highlighted the issues of harvesting, particularly declining wheat production in Punjab and shifting from staple crops to other crops.

He also laid emphasis on improvement in crops quality, enhancing of crops yields and better use of pesticides.

Jamshed Iqbal Cheema, chairman of the Crop Protection Association of Pakistan, said that there is a high level of food insecurity in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa followed by Sindh due to rising poverty and unemployment.

He highlighted the importance of shifting consuming habits to crops having high potential like potatoes, maize, cow milk, etc., and which have high nutrition value compared to traditional foods.

Qaisra Sheikh, coordinator of women entrepreneurs of the FPCCI, focused on purification of food items and wastage of food in Pakistan. She also highlighted the issues of household women who are facing deficiency in food.

Nousherwan Mughal, an FPCCI member, underscored the need of establishing agriculture labs for value addition of agriculture products and innovation of new varieties of agriculture produce.

In his concluding remarks, Sheikh Sultan Rehman, vice president of the FPCCI, emphasized the need for forming long-term and consistent policies with consultation with all the stakeholders, establishing of warehouses and cold storages to save fruits and vegetables from going rotten and utilizing modern irrigation technologies to increase food security in Pakistan.

He also offered vote of thanks to the participants.

The seminar was also attended by Qaiser Khan, vice president of FPCCI, Shaukat Ahmed, former senior vice president of FPCCI, Nasir Hayat Magoon, senior member of FPCCI, representatives of the Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation, the Seed Association of Pakistan, Croplife Pakistan, Sitara Chemicals and the Quetta Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Sultan Mehmood from the Seed Association of Pakistan.