In its 2013 manifesto, the PML-N promised to add a new article to the Constitution to make the ‘Right to Food’ a fundamental right for every citizen. To implement this plan, the government had envisaged formulating, in consultation with the provincial government, a National Strategy for food and security to achieve an average agricultural growth of at least 4 per cent per annum in the following decade. It was also decided that an equitable system of food procurement and distribution system was supposed to be devised to enable access to food at affordable price for underprivileged households.
The Finance Ministry’s claim of ‘up-to-the-mark’ performance of agriculture should not be taken at face value.
As per the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2016-17, the growth of the agriculture sector has been 3.46 per cent – in line with the target of 3.50 per cent. The improved performance has been due to better harvesting of major crops through greater availability of agriculture inputs like water, agriculture credit, and intensive fertilizer off-take. This sounds good, and the sector has indeed shown improvement over last year’s negative growth of 4.97 per cent.
However, some issues paint a different picture. The increase in cotton (7.6%) and rice (0.7%) production in FY17 has not been too impressive as compared to last year’s decline (-29% cotton, -2.8% rice). Wheat production grew, by 0.4 per cent over FY16. Sugarcane and maize alone have been driving the growth. Both crops saw phenomenal increases in production of 12.4 per cent and 16.3 per cent, respectively.
The Economic Survey has confirmed that the area under cotton and rice has seen a significant decline. The area under cotton decreased by 14.2 per cent year-on-year – the lowest it has been since 1986! The reasons cited for this decline were pest infestation and low domestic prices at the sowing time that pushed growers away from cotton to other competitive crops (sugarcane and maize). Rice faced the same fate. It saw 0.55 per cent decline in areas in FY17. The reasons given for this decline are a reduction in domestic prices of rice that compelled the growers to shift to the production of sugarcane and maize.
It is evident from the facts above that sugarcane and maize seem to be the only major crops driving growth in the agricultural sector, replacing other major crops; cotton and rice. One wonders how long this trend could be allowed to continue and would it have any implications for future export prospects.
Federal Minister of National Food Security and Research keeps on saying that Pakistan does not face any food insecurity because the country has a surplus of basic staples such as wheat, sugar, rice, etc.
However, the former World Food Programme’s Country Director Lola Castro said in September 2016 that 43 per cent of Pakistanis were facing food insecurity. She also stated that Pakistan was not facing a food shortage issue, but her analysis was based upon other indicators, rather than the quantity of food produced in the country alone. Castro revealed that both the quality and quantity of food available to most underprivileged Pakistanis was not enough to meet their basic nutritional needs. Our government, however, had conveniently overlooked these metrics. The focus had been primarily on crop production to celebrate food security. Even the persistent famine situation in Thar could not attract the attention of National Food Security officials.
Due to a high level of abject poverty across the country, especially in areas where food crops are not grown in large quantities, the number of people who cannot get enough to eat on a regular basis is quite high. Similarly, the problem of food quality has been overlooked as well. A balanced diet does not mean having enough food alone; it also means having a diversity of food groups.
According to Pakistan’s first-ever official report on multidimensional poverty, four out of ten Pakistanis are living in acute poverty, with Balochistan showing worst figures.
The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) showed a sharp decline with national poverty rates falling from 55 per cent to 39 per cent from 2004 to 2015. According to the report, 38.8 per cent of Pakistan’s population lives in poverty. A majority of the rural population (54.6 per cent) lives in acute poverty while this ratio is only 9.4 per cent in urban areas.
Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research, Sikandar Hayat Khan Busan, said that his government is committed to ensuring food security. However, he agreed that there are immense challenges in the way of ensuring food availability, increasing accessibility, improving utilization and maintaining stability to achieve food security in real terms.
“We have been able to deliberate and finalize the draft food security policy document in collaboration with other provinces, national and international partners,” the minister said.
Bosan agreed that Pakistan had to come up with strategies to reduce wastage of food. He said that about 30 to 40 per cent food was lost during the production, and post-harvest stages.
Asad Umer, MNA from PTI, said that despite having immense potential, the agricultural sector of Pakistan lacked efficiency and global competitiveness. “Low efficiency,” he said, “was impacting the country’s production of various farm goods.”
He pointed out that the government was not doing enough to ensure food security, which means a lot more than growing enough food. He said, “If a large number of people are unable to access food, as it had been the case in Thar, we cannot claim to have resolved the food issue in Pakistan.”
“Pakistan, which was once dubbed a ‘great bread basket,’ is now struggling to survive. At the same time, Pakistan’s agricultural sector is facing challenging losses of 40-80 per cent in the post-harvest process.”
Pakistan’s veteran economist, and former Minister of Finance, told Truth Tracker: “I doubt Pakistan has achieved 3.46 per cent agriculture growth.” However, he said that even if it were true, what good is this growth to the country when food is inaccessible for a large number of people. He said that 45 per cent of children had stunted development in Pakistan, which is a clear indicator that Pakistan is a food deficient country. The farmers were on the streets, because the loans promised to them had not been delivered or were not substantial enough to bring change,” he said.
PML-N has failed to introduce a new Article in the Constitution to make food security a constitutional right for the people of Pakistan, after being in power for four years. Hence, their promise has been compromised.