Experts believe Pakistan needs comprehensive food security strategy
LAHORE: Continuously rising food prices, stagnant incomes and growing unemployment have worsened the food security situation in Pakistan and placed a growing section of the population at risk of malnutrition and hunger. Even Punjab, the breadbasket of Pakistan, is challenged to protect its vulnerable population against the negative impact of high food prices and insufficient household incomes.
From its efforts to increase wheat production and providing stability to the market price of wheat to efforts at increasing yield and crop quality, Punjab’s contribution to national food security is critical. In this respect, some of the initiatives taken by the Government of Punjab have also positively impacted household income levels of poor families, as well as improving access to education and health services, which are in line with the WFP’s strategic objectives in Pakistan.
These were the conclusions of the consultative workshop of “planning household food security in Punjab” organised by the United Nations World food Programme to discuss food security situation in the province as part of a series of consultations at provincial and national level that aim at highlighting and addressing the growing problem of food insecurity in Pakistan.
Among others the eminent speakers included Mr Sartaj Aziz, former Chairman, Prime Minister’s Task Force on Food Security, Zia-ur-Rehman, Secretary Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Mr. Wolfgang Herbinger, WFP Representative in Pakistan Dr Kaiser Bengali, Economist, Dr Ayesha Khan, Nutritionist, representatives of Punjab Government, parliamentarians, researchers, UN agencies, NGOs from across the province, private and public sector organisations.
Sartaj Aziz during his keynote address stated that the recommendations of the task force are now available in published form and has been shared with the federal government. He said that a comprehensive food insecurity index has been developed to encompass all factors ensuring food security at national as well as at household level. He thanked the government that some of the recommendations like increase in wheat procurement price have been adopted and this initiative has helped to boost wheat production. Aziz also said that in his report recommendations have been made to develop a Food Security Strategy to address the issue on permanent basis.
While addressing this workshop, Zia-ur-Rehman, Federal Secretary, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, thanked WFP for organising this workshop. He mentioned that government has taken different steps to ensure food access to all people. The federal government has introduced Benazir Income Support Programme while Punjab has its own support programme. The Secretary said that real challenge to ensure food security at households’ level is to identify poor household and to target them. He also stressed upon capacity building of youth, which constitutes of almost 25 percent of the total population. He also emphasised on the need of quality control mechanisms to ensure availability of quality food products. Dr Mubarik Ali, Chief Executive, Punjab Agricultural Research Board in his presentation mentioned that Punjab at this stage is producing surplus of all food items except for vegetables. He also mentioned that in Punjab shifting of food consumption pattern to more diversified food items has been noted in recent the past. Dr Ayesha Khan, Clinical Nutritionist stressed upon addressing micronutrient deficiencies prevailing in different age brackets, particularly in pregnant and lactating women and children below 5 years of age. She stressed that, while initiatives were under way to ensure macronutrients, there was a need to start different initiatives for reduction of micronutrient deficiencies.
Dr Kaiser Bengali highlighted the importance of ensuring access to food through ensuring adequate purchasing power. He cited cases from Balochistan, where extreme poverty forced families to consume flour that was ground from wheat mixed with cactus plants and cases from Sindh where people consumed tea as a way of killing hunger so as to save on food. He also said that while safety net programmes like BISP were important as emergency supports, there was no substitute for a sound macroeconomic policy that would generate wage jobs and enhance real incomes. In his concluding remarks Wolfgang Herbinger, WFP Representative acknowledged the consensus that emerged over the growing food insecurity risks and the need for a comprehensive food security strategy for Pakistan. Summarizing key recommendations of the workshop, he stressed the importance of enhanced productivity and diversity in food production in order to address food insecurity and malnutrition. Focus on small farmer agriculture and effectively targeted safety nets for vulnerable households were other priorities identified by the expert consultation. staff report