Basic objective of any country all over the world and throughout the history has been to improve the quality of life of its citizens, a comprehensive concepthavingsocial, economic and political dimensions. In its economic dimension it entails convenient availability of quality economic goods and services at affordable prices to all segments of society i.e. food, shelter, clothing, education, health etc. Thus the first and the most important component of quality of life is thefood security—sufficient availability of quality food and its easy and affordable access to maximum numbers of people.
However during the last decade or so two other components have been added to the concept to give it a holistic meaning.These are known as food absorption and food stability. In other words now food security not only means availabity and access of food to the people but it should be nutritionally balanced and hygienically processed by the people who are healthy enough to absorb it. Secondly all the above three components are stable over the long period with precautions taken before hand to meet any emergency which could adversely affect the food security.
The following universally accepted definition of food security by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) contains all the essential elements of food security. “Food security exists when all people, at all timeshas physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritional food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
The above viewpoint has been reiterated in a recent report of UNDP regarding human development in Africa, through its emphases on the following four areas to ensure a food secure future;
- Increasing productivity of smallholder farmers
- More effective nutrition policies (especially for children and women)
- Greater community and household resilience to cope with shocks
- Wider popular participation and empowerment.
The basic thrust of the report is to view the food security as multi-sectoral phenomenon, as a challenge beyond sectoral mandates, integrating humanitarian and development work, enabling the people and communities themselves to strengthen their resilience. However, for this correct policy decisions and governance are necessary because it is through responsible governance and forthright action that the potential gains for human development and food security can be reached.
Food security is now invariably linked with poverty reduction strategies of the developing countries because of its complex but crucial two-wayrelationship. That is why the very first Millennium Development Goal dealing with the reduction of poverty lays special emphasis on eradication of hunger from the member countries.While endemic and persistent poverty reduces productivity of the people, it is the low level of productivity, which perpetuates the poverty, thus creating a vicious cycle, which can be broken byincreasing the agricultural production through sustainable practices. This in turn means increasing the efficiency of agricultural operations in its entire gambit by adopting good agricultural practices. These in nutshell are greater mechanization of agricultural operations, appropriate application of inputs, reducing production and post production losses, timely processing of the produce and ensuring fair returns to the farmers through contract and cooperative farming.
While the food security situation in Pakistan is satisfactory in terms of first requirement i.e. food availability as a result of pro farmer policies adopted during the last two /three years, the same cannot be said about the other three. No doubt the farmers have been getting fair returns for their produce, there are certain segments of society, which have been badly hurt by the increase in food prices. Similarly there have been disruptions in the availability of food grains in areas hit by terrorism or the floods. The non-farming sectorin the rural areas, the urban poor, the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and those living in areas where terroristactivities are going on are extremely vulnerable to shortages of basic necessities of life including food. Lastly the overall health profile of the population, particularly those living in rural areas leaves much to be improved to meet the criterion of satisfactory food absorption and calorie intake
Keeping in view the complexity of the issue, thenewly constituted and appropriately named ministry of food security and agricultural research should urgently work to prepare a comprehensive plan, outlining how to address this issue, its corebusiness. No doubt, the first component of the of the food security namely sufficient availability of food grains, the main focus of its predecessor MINFA, still retains its primacy, there is a need to change the mindset of the officers of the ministry and the agricultural specialists working in various research institutions under its administrative control to stop paying exclusive attention to only this aspect of food securityvis a vie the other three elements of food security mentioned above. Until there is a paradigm shift in the thinking of the ministry, it will not comprehend the enormity of the issue and find appropriatesolutions.
As the food security involves several ministries, organizations as well as the provincial governments, where turf war is endemic, creation of a broad based commission at the highest level, preferably at the prime minister level on the pattern of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA ) for better coordination and extracting cooperation from them would go a long way in ensuring food security. If not possible, then it must be located in the Planning Commission because food security policy can be conveniently dovetailed with its recently announced growth policy. However the leading role will have to be played by the ministry of food security and agricultural research, which should ensure that the policy thus formulated should be an integral part of the growth policy and not just an adjunct.
One of the first tasks of the Commission should be to update the food insecurity profile of the country to have the exact magnitude and geographical and sectional spread of the foodpeople and regions.. Fortunately Pakistan is self sufficient in production of food grains but there is a significant food gap in terms of consumption between relatively developed regions and those lagging behind. Then there is always a danger of its certain areas falling victims to chronic or transitory food insecurity fortwo reasons;
a. The ongoing violence and terrorism in some of worst affected areas may force majority of its inhabitants to become IDPs, leaving their lands to remain uncultivated for a long period of time.
b. The looming threat of climate change may make some already vulnerable regionsto chronic food insecurity.
With changing social and economicprofile of the country, food habits of the people are also changing. As has happened in China, Brazil and other developing countries, the growing prosperity of certain classes results in conversion of food grains for the production of meat for the rich, creating shortages of food for the poor. Although not an imminent threat, a futuristic plan must make a provision for this aspect.
Lastly strengthening fuel security by increasing the production of crops suitable for biofuel in a country where food security is an issue is not a realistic and cost effective. It is feasible only in those countries where there is abundant supply of land and water. Even the so-called marginal lands cannot be spared as they provide food for the animalsand the ministry must keep in mind that fuel security is not its mandate. Let the ministry of petroleum handle this issue.
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