In recent years, Pakistan has faced an escalating threat of food insecurity, with various international organizations predicting a further exacerbation of the situation in the near future. This is due to a convergence of factors including perceived food shortages, affordability issues, global economic slowdown, rising worldwide food prices, significant inflation within the country, and reduced capacity to import essential food items due to weakening foreign exchange reserves and the devaluation of the national currency.
The food security issue in Pakistan has been compounded by challenges such as a rapidly growing population, unpredictable climate changes, and an elevated risk of floods. In the past, the government primarily focused on increasing crop areas and yields to counteract price hikes and food shortages. However, this strategy is now limited by reduced water supply availability, as dam storage capacity has decreased and new dam construction has been hindered.
For example, wheat production has grown from 19.18 million tonnes to 26.4 million tonnes, marking a 37.6 percent increase over the past two decades (2003-2022). In the same period, Pakistan's population has expanded by 41.3 percent according to World Bank data, growing from 166.9 million in 2003 to 235.8 million in 2022.
Losses in the mango and tomato value chains illustrate the gravity of the problem. Studies reveal that food loss at various stages in the mango value chain surpasses 35 percent, while the tomato value chain experiences even higher losses, amounting to approximately 45 percent.
Moreover, the tomato production sector faces a unique challenge where farmers frequently plow under their fruit-bearing fields during years of plummeting market prices, as these prices fail to cover harvesting and packaging costs.
The inadequacy of temperature-controlled storage, basic value-addition techniques, and a lack of supply-demand synchronization for perishable goods contribute significantly to massive losses in the horticulture sector.
Addressing these losses demands effective policies and strategic interventions. Unfortunately, Pakistan lacks substantial policy discussions about integrating loss and waste reduction into the overarching food policy framework. The previous National Food Security Policy (2018) only briefly acknowledged such issues without presenting actionable policy measures.
While the government bears the responsibility of raising awareness among the public, farmers, and stakeholders about the scale of losses and waste, the extent of its intervention remains a critical question. Three broad policy options could be considered:
First, the government could act as a facilitator rather than a regulator, focusing on increasing awareness, investing in infrastructure, fostering investment, and improving financial access for farmers and the private sector to encourage agricultural best practices and post-harvest technologies.
Second, considering Pakistan's socio-economic context, implementing paternalistic regulations might be necessary to steer farmers and value chain actors toward optimal choices. This assumes that without such regulations, impulsive decisions, cognitive biases, or lack of information might hinder actions that align with individual and national interests.
Third, introducing new regulations within the existing legal framework could be feasible. These regulations should be easily implementable and monitorable through limited control points, leveraging existing institutional setups. For instance, criteria for crop varietal approval could be adjusted to prioritize resilience against adverse weather conditions, and regulations could mandate the use of specific packaging materials in fruit and vegetable markets.
While these interventions won't completely eliminate food loss, they constitute important initial steps in the right direction. Swift action is imperative to address the escalating challenges of food security and climate change.
On the forefront of promoting climate-smart agriculture stands Wattoo, a respected figure who has dedicated his prominent career to mitigating the adverse effects of shifting weather patterns on farmers' productivity. His endeavors revolve around highlighting the importance of innovative technology, policy reforms, and grassroots interventions to ensure an adequate food supply amid escalating challenges. Khalid Saeed, not merely a researcher, actively engages with both private and public sectors to bridge knowledge gaps and implement transformative changes. His contributions transcend the ordinary.
In Pakistan, Khalid Saeed is renowned for his insightful articles published in esteemed outlets such as Dawn. His works concentrate on the pressing contemporary issues within the country's agricultural sphere. By offering his expertise and demonstrating unwavering dedication, Khalid pursues the objective of catalyzing positive transformations, fostering inventive solutions, and nurturing resilience. While these efforts are concentrated in the agricultural sector, their ultimate impact will contribute to the prosperity and well-being of the nation and its farming communities.To read the full article visit https://www.dawn.com/authors/9955/khalid-saeed-wattoo