Food Insecurity: Is There a Way Out?

By Tabish, Muhammad Iqbal | Economic Review, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Food Insecurity: Is There a Way Out?


Tabish, Muhammad Iqbal, Economic Review


AT a time when the United Nations is at its midpoint campaign to reduce global poverty and improve living standards of the world's bottom billion, a rapidly escalating global food crisis has emerged as a serious challenge to its Millennium Development Goals.

The food shortages coupled with sky-rocketing prices of food items is threatening global food security. The World Bank estimates that the doubling of food prices over the last three years could push 100 million people in low-income countries deeper into poverty,

Many developing countries which have surplus production of food stuff have also started thinking of remodeling their export policies. Some countries including Pakistan are taking short-and long-term measures to achieve food security.

A major factor responsible for food crisis is the shift from agriculture to industry by many countries, which could perform better in agro-sector as compared with manufacturing. As a result of inadequate attention towards the agricultural sector, the production level has fallen drastically as compared to the ever-growing consumption. According to the figures provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2006, both world agricultural production and food production rose by less than one per cent. As a consequence, per capita food production is estimated to have fallen by about 0.2 per cent; the first such decline since 1993.

Much of the poor performance of world agriculture in 2006 was due to disappointing cereal production, which fell for the second consecutive year. The decline was caused by a contraction in wheat output, down five per cent, and coarse grains, down three per cent, while rice production was virtually unchanged. On the other hand, practically all the other crop sectors did well, especially edible oil, sugar and vegetables.

Seen from a longer perspective, the world agricultural production increased annually by 2.2 per cent over the 10 years (1996-2006), resulting from a 2.2 per cent growth in crop production and 2.4 per cent in livestock production. The pace of growth was much slower for cereals, which grew by just 0.8 percent over the 10 years. This clearly means that the production level was not compatible with the consumption pattern that has increased 1.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent.

Like some other countries, Pakistan is also faced with enormous challenges including food and increasing prices. The government is taking short-term arrangement but will have to take long-term policy measures to ensure the access of common man to essential food items.

As a result of absence of long-term planning, the country is now more dependent on imported food stuff wheat, palm oil, raw cotton and farm inputs like fertilizer.

Agriculture continues to be a dominant driving force for growth and the main source of livelihood for 66 per cent of the country's population. It accounts for 20.9 percent of the GDP and employs 43.4 per cent of the total workforce. As such agriculture is the engine of economic growth and poverty reduction.

The agriculture growth has experienced mixed trends over the last six year. The country witnessed unprecedented drought during the first two years of the decade i.e. (2000-01 and 2001-02), registering negative growth. In the following years (2002-03 to 2004-05), relatively better availability of irrigation water had a positive impact on overall agricultural growth. It made modest to strong recovery. The performance of agriculture remained weak during 2005-06 because major crops could not perform up to the expectations.

Growth in the agriculture sector registered a sharp recovery in 2006-07 and grew by five per cent as against the preceding year's growth of 1.6 per cent but the output was lower than the increasing consumption.

For sustainable food security at national and household levels, states need to provide its people an easy access to sufficient food.

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