The devastating economic crisis in Pakistan has pushed the country to the brink of collapse. The financial situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, soaring inflation and the country’s worst political instability in more than 70 years. After facing the covid-19 pandemic, the country experienced a massive flood in which agriculture was affected by the floodwaters. Also, at the start of 2022, Pakistan struggled to stabilize its economy, but unfortunately, the current political crisis worsened the economy.
Nevertheless, many financial analysts argue that it is just the beginning. This situation may lead to another significant crisis Pakistan may face in the future: food insecurity. According to the United Nations, the country ranks number 8th in the world’s wheat production, but the country is considered to have a fast-approaching food security crisis. Food crisis occurs due to lack of resource management at national, regional and global level. This happens due to natural calamities, crop failure, incompetent government policies etcetera. Food crisis results in hunger, poverty, malnutrition and poor health.
Over the year, Pakistan’s rising food prices and declining incomes have made people more food insecure. The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that about 43 per cent of Pakistanis are food insecure, and 18 per cent of them severely lack access to food. WFP maintains that affordability is the most significant barrier to access to nutritious food, estimating that most Pakistanis cannot afford nutritionally acceptable food.
Pakistan is currently self-sufficient in significant staples, ranked eighth in wheat production, tenth in rice, fifth in sugarcane and fourth in milk production. Despite that, in the 2022 Global Hunger Index (GHI) international ranking, Pakistan ranked 99th out of 121 countries, with a score of 26.1; the country’s hunger level is categorized as severe. The index comprises four indicators which show that 16.9 per cent of the population is under-nourished, 37.6 per cent of children under five are stunted, 6.5 per cent of children die before the age of five, and 7.1 per cent of children under the age of five are wasted. However, on the regional level, Pakistan is far better than the neighboring country India (ranked 107th), while Afghanistan ranked 109th out of 121 countries.
However, the situation is alarming for Pakistan as the country is already facing a severe economic crisis. In the coming days, the ranking may drop and reach the alarming GHI severity scale due to flooding and an impending severe financial crisis. Pakistan is currently facing a scenario in which it is food-sufficient but not food secure. Pakistan already has one of the highest levels of malnutrition in the world. Damage to the entire supply chain due to floods in the last few months is likely to increase the risk of food shortages in the country.
Factors Leading to Food Insecurity
Severe climate change, massive economic crisis, rising food prices and natural disasters have affected food accessibility and security in Pakistan. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was particularly severe on daily wage earners. Similarly, the economic crisis in the recent year, 2022, increased food prices and disrupted economic activities, has furthered food insecurity. The weak economy affects the agriculture sector and industries, due to which both producers and consumers face difficulties.
Similarly, climate change is another reason that severely impacts Pakistan’s agriculture production. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that the frequency of such extreme weather conditions will increase in the future, which poses serious threats to Pakistan’s food security. The Asian Development Bank projects that there will be a sharp decline in primary food and cash crops such as wheat and rice in the coming years due to the rise in farming costs and harsher weather.
In addition, the dismal state of food insecurity in Pakistan is mainly due to the limited economic access of the poorest and the most vulnerable to disruptions in the food supply chain. The prevalence of poverty in the country shows that nearly a quarter of Pakistan’s total population lives below the poverty line. It is important to note that even with relatively low and stable prices, the poorest families lack the purchasing power to buy food.
Moreover, another factor that contributes to food insecurity in the country is the dependence on imports of certain commodities, which is partly responsible for the significant fluctuations in their prices. The war between Russia and Ukraine has disrupted global supply chains, wheat and other crops being the most affected in case of Pakistan. Thus, the price of wheat in the world market has increased by 60 per cent. International markets are in constant turmoil due to this situation in Ukraine, raising food and fertilizer prices. This has highlighted the need to transform the food system further.
The massive economic crisis, increasing poverty, inflation, limited/disrupted access to essential services and internal displacement due to floods have dented the country’s economy at multiple levels and varied intensities. This makes controlling the situation extremely difficult for the policy makers.
On the other side, political instability and food insecurity will exacerbate the country’s existing problems. According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), around 8 million people have been internally displaced; more than 33 million people have been affected by the humanitarian emergency caused by the floods. Extensive damage to infrastructure, houses, and livestock has been reported.
Possible Policy Options
Apart from inflation, there are many other causes of food insecurity, such as exchange rate fluctuations, floods and poor policies. It can be tackled with increased food production, the government’s active role, and effective policies.
In 2018, Pakistan made its first-ever National Food Security Policy in which it was highlighted that it would ensure food availability, accessibility, and also sustainability by making the agriculture sector more productive, competitive and also profitable. While at the national level, Pakistan has developed a comp policy framework to address food insecurity and climate change, many policies failed due to a lack of funding at the provincial level. Similarly, considering the current situation, there is an urgent need for change in Pakistan’s climate change policies and food system.
The economic and financial policies have only increased social and economic inequality. To avoid future food crises, the government should improve the value chain of fruit and vegetable crops while also ensuring the availability of storage facilities. The government should promote crop diversification, water management and climate-smart farming to reduce the devastating impact of natural disasters on food security.
However, the government cannot tackle climate change alone and needs the community’s support. Pakistanis should be better informed about the adverse effects of climate change and the importance of water conservation. Community-led sustainable development projects should be designed and implemented to address better the needs and concerns of the poor, disabled and indigenous groups.
Policymakers have realized that food security is an issue that needs urgent attention, and have highlighted key challenges that need to be addressed, such as inadequate attention to nutrition; supply-side constraints related to agricultural inputs; slow pace of technological diffusion; trade restrictions; land degradation; dangerous dehydration levels; and the impending effects of climate change. Moreover, through multi-sectoral interventions, Pakistan needs to address food insecurity in both rural and urban areas by improving production, processing, transport, storage, and marketing. It is important to prioritize work on legislation, guidelines and regulations for better quality control, better payment systems, and consumer protection regulations.
Also, Pakistan needs to empower agriculture and livestock producers with increased use of technology to ensure broader adaptation to climate-smart agriculture. Pakistan needs to encourage greater use of digital technologies in rural and urban areas to make the food system more responsive, resilient and efficient.
Furthermore, to make food available, accessible and affordable, the government has to stabilize the market by reducing the prices of commodities. Food production can be increased by encouraging smallholder farmers to grow more crops to diversify their production. Strengthening social protection programs will help vulnerable communities avoid poverty and malnutrition. More, there is an urgent need to introduce artificial intelligence policy to predict future climate risks, and by using the data, the government can plan to deal with it.
After Flood 2022, the government needed to make contingency plans to protect people’s lives and crops from heavy flooding. The lack of solid planning and strategy, and coordination between various government agencies have made disaster management easier. Considering the current situation, there is an urgent need for changes in Pakistan’s climate change adaptation policies and food systems.
Recent floods have worsened food security due to extensive damage to agricultural lands and crops. Also rise in the economic crisis may affect food security in the coming days. The government can reduce the food crisis by implementing respective policies. If timely steps are not taken to address food insecurity and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, Pakistan may face an existential threat.