Pakistanis ranked 76th on the world food security index. Official statistics confirm that over 60 percent of Pakistan's population is food insecure. Food shortage is closely linked to water scarcity. At the time of independence, per capita availability of water was 5000 cubic metres a year but this ratio has now come down to less than 1,000 cubic metres a year. Experts say that people living in the rural areas, especially the lower parts of Sindh, are facing starvation, continuous disasters and are highly food insecure. Hundreds of millions of undernourished persons in the backward hinterland suffer from political and social exclusion and their right to food is openly violated. They are equally excluded from all access to those resources that would enable them to lead a dignified life. One example is Tharparkar where is food available in warehouses but the people are suffering from hunger, starvation and malnutrition.
The country's first National Food Security Policy was recently announced 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.
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. These measures will go a long way to improve food security in the country.