The government recently unveiled the country's first National Food Security Policy in an effort to eliminate hunger and malnutrition and make food accessible for all, especially the poor.The policy envisages 4% annual growth in food production, including crops, livestock and fisheries and will help make the agriculture sector more productive, competitive and resilient to climate change. The policy document would provide a mechanism to address all four components of food security which included food availability, accessibility, utilisation and stability.The policy framework is aimed at improving farmers' access to seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and credit flow, and addressing land and water management issues.As part of the policy, a National Food Security Council will be established under the chairmanship of prime minister in which all chief ministers and other officials will periodically review the state of food security and initiate necessary remedial measures.
The new policy has 16 elements, which include special programmes for reducing poverty and hunger, bridging the yield gaps, ensuring farm profitability, augmenting the existing water resource base by promoting efficient use through alternative energy, developing hybrid seeds, providing incentives for food processing and value addition under public-private partnership arrangements, developing efficient farm mechanisation and processing technologies to reduce the cost of production, and enacting food safety regulatory laws.The policy also includes the development of nine agricultural corridors under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for agro-based industries.The nine zones, which will be set up in collaboration with China, will help achieve food sovereignty, benefit farmers and rural communities, improve yields, conserve biodiversity, and ensure soil health, cleaner water and resilient food systems.
Needless to say, better governance and elimination of corruption is important to help improve the level of food security, besides bringing stable economic growth. There is an urgent need for investment in agricultural infrastructure and research and development work in order to improve farm productivity and better cope with natural disasters. A shortfall in investment has led to limited innovation in the agricultural sector. Antiquated farming methods and inefficient use of resources have contributed to poor productivity. Two-thirds of the country's population and 80% of the poor live in rural areas. Lack of development in agricultural infrastructure and advancement in farming methods has made agricultural production difficult and inefficient, aggravating poverty in rural areas.
Recently, the government has taken steps taken to reduce the cost of production, especially for small farmers. It has abolished 17% general sales tax (GST) on fertilisers, imposed a uniform 2% tax and reduced duties on pesticides. GST on tractors has been slashed from 17% to 5%. The government is also working to produce short-duration seeds to cope with the impact of climate change. The agriculture sector is being upgraded on scientific lines so that it could meet contemporary challenges and help improve financial condition of the farmers. Agriculture promotion measures include subsidy on fertilisers, interest-free loans, promotion of certified seeds and cheap electricity for tube-wells.
The agriculture sector is the mainstay of the country's economy and its health determines the level of food security in the country. Theagriculture growth rate has remained slow in the last few years but rose 3.81 per cent this year. The main challenge is to increase productivity to ensure availability of food in ample measure at affordable prices. Efforts are also needed to reduce and avoid environmental pollution and consume resources sustainably. Population control should also be on the agenda of the government and society.Environmental pollution and degradation pose additional challenges to the country in terms of food security.