ACHIEVING food security is impossible without boosting the per-hectare yields of food crops on a sustainable basis, containing pre- and post-harvest losses and improving the food storage system.
Implementing the recently finalised national food security policy may help in meeting these objectives, according to officials privy to the policy documents.
The plan involves managing big data, dependable forecasting and simulation, acquiring computer and internet-based technologies and greater coordination among federal and provincial agencies and the private sector.
The Ministry of National Food Security and Research will oversee the implementation with a powerful committee, which is headed by its secretary and comprises relevant officials at federal and provincial levels and private sector representatives. The committee will report directly to the prime minister.
Investment in research programmes on food security has to be increased manifold. That is precisely where the private sector will have to play a greater role. In return, the government will make laws to give due protection to technological breakthroughs and innovations of private sector companies and institutions.
Besides, foreign companies helping us in achieving food security will be encouraged to get actively involved in marketing of their expertise and technologies,” according to a senior official.
Senior officials of the food ministry say the policy seeks to allocate resources — both at federal and provincial levels — for bridging yield gaps of major food crops. Our per-hectare yields of wheat and rice are already much lower than what they could and should be. And the yield of sugarcane and maize, despite being on the rise for some years, can and must still be increased to ensure food security.
Climate change as a consequence of global warming is affecting the yields of wheat and rice crops more in Pakistan than our peers, experts say.
Keeping in view these and other factors, such as a high population growth rate, the policy suggests ways to increase per-hectare output of key food crops. Implementing the policy recommendations for developing hybrid seeds, providing incentives for farmers, processors and others in value-addition chain, promoting public-private partnership arrangements in these areas and encouraging farm mechanisation and processing technologies should also collectively help in boosting the crops’ yields.
After the 2010 devolution plan, agriculture is now a provincial subject. However, the federal government, through the food ministry and federal agencies, also has many roles to play — from setting crop output targets and making policies on external food trade to coordinating with provinces where necessary to getting agriculture research done to ensuring food security.
Implementing the national food security policy, therefore, is a job that requires upholding of its spirit by both federal and provincial governments as well as the institutions and agencies that report to them, federal and provincial officials reckon.
“Provincial agriculture departments keep direct contact with growers and provincial policies on support prices, maintaining balance in crops cultivation which may have a direct impact on food crops output,” says a senior official of the Sindh agriculture department. “The food security policy, once approved by the federal cabinet, will make it binding on both federal and provincial governments to redesign their own policies to make them people-centric to achieve food security.”
He added: “On both federal and provincial levels, agriculture budgeting will be made keeping this point in view. For example, up to 10 per cent of the annual development budget will have to be devoted to agriculture, in which research and innovation and productivity enhancement will have to be prioritised.”
For promoting research and innovation, the policy suggests creation of agriculture research board in Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan with technical assistance from federal institutions. One such board is already operational in Punjab.
Sources privy to the national food security policy say that it envisages measures not only to boost per-hectare yield of major food crops, i.e. wheat, rice, sugarcane and maize, but it also recommends ways to increase production of other crops including potatoes, sorghum and barley that can be used as an alternate to a staple in case of occasional shortage of a key food crop.
If we look at the key elements of food availability, i.e. production of food crops, stocks and net trade, two things catch our attention: production is by and large satisfactory but reserves maintenance suffers from structural weaknesses and distribution across regions and population segments is uneven. And while the net trade of basic food items is all right, that of value-added food products is increasingly making us a net importer.
The national food security policy seeks to address these and similar issues by setting key guidelines for federal and provincial authorities on how to refocus their strategies and how to redirect resources from one area to another.