Comprehensive strategy needed to avert food insecurity

Comprehensive strategy needed to avert food insecurity

By Imran Nazir

ISLAMABAD, May 26 (APP): With growing threats of climate change and its population hovering around 230 million, Pakistan is under recognizable pressure of food insecurity as well as employment generation for the survival of its people.

Amidst changing world dynamics in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, Pakistan’s agricultural production has also gained more importance to maintain food security and address issues like hunger and malnutrition to develop a healthy and prosperous society and achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger.

Although the country has a bumper wheat crop this year, its agriculture sector still faced challenges like changing weather patterns, depleting groundwater table, increasing urbanization and lack of value chain infrastructure.

According to a World Bank (WB) study, the majority of Pakistan’s population in rural areas reside below the poverty line which necessitates raising agricultural productivity to generate more income opportunities for them to improve the rural economy.

Torrential rains and floods like last year are also a challenge for the policymakers to avert the effects of such future catastrophes for securing crops and livestock of people associated with agricultural sector.

Keeping in view all these issues, the government is working on a multi-pronged strategy by ensuring supply of certified seeds of major crops like wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane and maize.

“The government has launched a track and trace seed policy to provide certified seeds of cash crops like wheat, cotton and rice to farmers,” said Imtiaz Ali Gopang, Food Security Commissioner, Ministry of National Food Security and Research.

He informed that under this initiative, during 2022-23, paddy seed availability was 67,289 metric tons, about 148% of the total seed required for the Kharif 2023-24 crop. Moreover, certified seeds availability for maize crops during 2022-23 was around 28,029.31 metric tons (85%) of the total requirement, he added.

Gopang said for sowing maize in 2023-24, its seed availability was 24,667 metric tons including 7,154.55 metric tons local and 17,521 metric tons of imported seed which was around 75% of the total requirement. “The government was also ensuring the provision of seeds for pulses and oil seeds to enhance their per-acre output.”

“Efforts are also being made to facilitate local growers in adopting innovative cultivation techniques like conserving cultivable land, water, soil and energy for producing cost-effective food cereals to fulfill dietary needs of people on affordable prices,” he mentioned.

The government has also had fixed support prices of wheat and cotton to facilitate and encourage farmers, besides announcing Prime Minister Kissan Package scheme to provide farmers loans up to Rs30 million on seven percent markup for seven years time.

The ECC had approved a wheat procurement target of 1.80 million metric tons at the rate of Rs 3,900 per 40 kilograms by Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Services Corporation (PASSCO) for the year 2023.

A committee was also formed to review proper wheat usage and storage mechanism including the development of silos to ensure the availability of grain at sustainable prices.

Cotton Commissioner Dr Zahid has also informed that the ECC has fixed cotton (Phutti) intervention price at Rs 8,500 per 40 kg for current sowing to revive its production, bring stability to the domestic market and ensure a fair return to farmers. “We expect, this initiative would help bring more areas under cotton cultivation.”

“The public and private sector seed agencies of Punjab and Sindh have procured 15,983 metric tons and 1,686 metric tons of seed respectively,” he informed.

He said departments concerned were also working on research and development to produce high-yielding seed varieties of different crops.

Meanwhile, Chairman Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (PARC) Dr Ghulam Muhammad Ali informed that due to advancements in seed production technology, local output of major cash crops witnessed a manifold increase with minor crops like oil seeds, pulses and vegetables also witnessing growth.

“PARC, in collaboration with Korean Program on International Agriculture (KOPIA), would establish 35 aeroponic greenhouses to produce first-generation seed potato tubers for large-scale cultivation to produce virus-free potato seed,” he stated. “With this initiative, more than 30 per cent of potato seed requirements could be met from tissue culture labs established at National Agriculture Research Center (NARC).”

Dr Mansoor, Project Director Pulses Enhancement Program of PARC mentioned developing six commercial varieties of beans to help reduce reliance on imported pulses. “These are the first commercial varieties of beans produced in Pakistan that will boost pulses cultivation locally and enhance their output.”

He said PARC under the Public Sector Development Program had also launched a five-year research project to increase national average produce of pulses like chickpea, mung bean, mash, lentils and beans by 30% to meet local demand.

Although the government has introduced numerous measures to boost the agricultural sector with different government departments, it was also working on multiple high-yield seed varieties. These measures must transform into a visible change in the lives of poor farmers as well as provision of sufficient food for people.

There is also a dire need to control unbridled population growth, enhance productivity and raise awareness on the prudent use of commodities avoiding wastage in daily life, especially during wedding ceremonies.

A comprehensive strategy for price controlling, the exploitative role of middlemen and hoarding of commodities for illegal profit gains must also be in place besides charity initiatives to reach out to hunger-stricken rural and urban poor.

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