Pakistan’s food insecurity

Agriculture is the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy, accounting for 25 percent of the GDP, 60 percent of export earnings and 48 percent of employment.

Despite being rich in agriculture, the National Nutrition Survey 2011 (NNS 2011) reported that 62 percent of Pakistan’s population is food insecure, while the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI’s) Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2014 states that Pakistan is one of the most food insecure countries in Asia.

The country has been ranked at number 57 on the GHI after Uganda, which is at number 56. The question arises: what is wrong with our food security?

If one diagnoses the issue in depth, it will be obvious that food insecurity is due to unavailability of agriculture, food, environment, land related policies and the government’s lethargy in tackling hunger and food insecurity on a priority basis.

It has been observed that the worst victims of food insecurity are fishermen, peasants and farm labourers who are mostly landless members of society.

Research show that sleep deprivation lead to degeneration in performance and higher land inequality is associated with a higher level of deprivation and poverty.

According to studies conducted by the National Peasants Coalition of Pakistan (NPCP), Sindh Land Reforms Movement (SLRM), People’s Network on Food and Agriculture (PNFA) and a Panos South Asia study on Pakistan’s land reforms, “Land distribution in Pakistan is highly unequal as five percent large landholders possess 64 percent of total farm land and 65 percent small farmers hold 15 percent of such land.

The large landholders have all the political powers and economic advantages. Around 50.8 percent of rural households are landless while the poverty amongst the rural landless people is high.

The power of landowners is really a monopoly that has served as a barrier to the social and economic progress of the poor and is one of the major reasons behind food insecurity in the country.”

A case study of Pakistan on corporate agriculture farming written by Dr Rafique Chandio, which was also published in the Berkeley Journal of Social Sciences, says: “Over six million families in Pakistan own 50 million acres of land and around 94 percent of its farmers fall into the subsistence category.

They cultivate less than 12.5 acres of land. Around 20 million people work in the grossly over-employed agriculture sector.

Even if a fraction of farmers is thrown out, there is no sector strong enough to absorb it. It only proves the magnitude of social vulnerability and the country needs to be careful in trading a risky path.”

In the past, the corporate sector technically influenced Pakistani governments for taking unwise and wrong decisions, declaring land reforms as un-Islamic — the Corporate Farming Ordinance 2000 is part of it.

But, it is no less than a wonder that even after the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment of Pakistan, the ministry of national food security and research was created at the federal level by the present government while food, land and agriculture related matters were subject to the provinces.

Experts are of the view that the ministry of national food security and research has a very limited role and it has chosen to uphold the corporate agenda in the name of food security. The discourse does not end here but it further proves the linkages between the ministry and transnational corporations in Pakistan.

Furthermore, the Seed Act 2015, passed by Pakistan’s Senate, has been termed as highly controversial because of the fact that the basic rights of farmers and growers on the right to seeds has been violated by the act. It also promotes genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the country.

The draft of the food security policy is under development by the ministry of food security and research, which also reflects corporate influence from its first sentence to its last.

Vision 2015-2025, drafted by the Planning Commission of Pakistan, has seven pillars, five of which are corporate-oriented.

The recent Prime Minister’s (PM’s) Agriculture Package is also no more than a political move and influenced by corporations. Hence, we again are on the wrong path, as right to food and food security are still questionable.

According to the World Food Summit, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO’s) definitions and Food First Information and Action Network’s (FIAN’s) international reports, “Food insecurity exists when people live with hunger and fear starvation.

It is defined as a situation that exists when people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development, and an active and healthy life. To achieve food security, sufficient and nutritious food needs to be available and accessible. It also needs to be properly utilised.

Food availability, access and utilisation together form three pillars determining household food security. Living without the fear of hunger is a basic human right.”

The right to food is also recognised in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as a plethora of other instruments.

The right to food is also protected in Article 38-D of the Constitution of Pakistan.

If the present government really wants to strategise for food security in the country and ensure the right to food, it has to maximise the options.

A zero hunger programme and other options would be much better but land reforms are required not only to accelerate agricultural growth but also to prevent the developing social crises associated with poverty, food insecurity and disempowerment of peasants in Pakistan’s rural society.

October, 2015

By:       Waheed Jamali
Source: Daily Times