Pakistan needs comprehensive food security strategy

ISLAMABAD (APP) - Continuously rising food prices, stagnant incomes and growing unemployment have worsened the food security situation in Pakistan, noted the experts at consultative workshop. The experts cited, the food security challenges have placed a growing section of the population at risk of malnutrition and hunger and even Punjab, the breadbasket of Pakistan, is challenged to protect its vulnerable population against the negative impact of high food prices and insufficient household incomes. Speaking at the consultative workshop of planning household food security in Punjab organized by the United Nations World Food Program, these experts discussed food security situation in the province as part of a series of consultations at provincial and national level that aim at highlighting and addressing the growing problem of food insecurity in Pakistan. These experts included Sartaj Aziz, former Chairman, Prime Ministers Task Force on Food Security, Zia-ur-Rehman, Secretary Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Wolfgang Herbinger, WFP Representative in Pakistan, Dr. Kaiser Bengali, an Economist, and Dr. Ayesha Khan, Nutritionist, representatives of Punjab Government, parliamentarians, researchers, UN agencies, NGOs from across the province, private and public sector organizations. From its efforts to increase wheat production and providing stability to the market price of wheat to efforts at increasing yield and crop quality, Punjabs contribution to national food security is critical. In this respect, some of the initiatives taken by the Government of Punjab have also positively impacted household income levels of poor families, as well as improving access to education and health services which are in line with the WFPs strategic objectives in Pakistan. The recommendations of the task force are now available in published form and has been shared with the federal government, said Sartaj Aziz during his keynote address. He said a comprehensive food insecurity index has been developed to encompass all factors ensuring food security at national as well as at household level. He thanked the government that some of the recommendations like increase in wheat procurement price have been adopted and this initiative has helped to boost wheat production. Sartaj Aziz also said, in his report recommendations have been made to develop a Food Security Strategy to address the issue on permanent basis. Zia-ur-Rehman, Federal Secretary, Ministry of Food and Agriculture mentioned that government has taken different steps to ensure food access to all people. The federal government has introduced Benazir Income Support Programme while Punjab has its own support programme, the Secretary said and added, the real challenge to ensure food security at households level is to identify poor household and to target them. He also stressed upon capacity building of youth - almost 25 percent of the total population as well as quality control mechanism to ensure availability of quality food products. Dr. Mubarik Ali, Chief Executive, Punjab Agricultural Research Board stated that Punjab at this stage is producing surplus food except for vegetables. He also mentioned that in Punjab shifting of food consumption pattern to more diversified food items, has been noted in recent the past. Dr. Ayesha Khan, Clinical Nutritionist stressed upon addressing micronutrient deficiencies prevailing in different age brackets, particularly in pregnant and lactating women and children below 5 years of age. She said as initiatives were under way to ensure macronutrients, there was need to start different initiatives for reduction of micronutrient deficiencies. Dr. Kaiser Bengali highlighted importance of ensuring access to food through ensuring adequate purchasing power. He cited cases from Balochistan, where extreme poverty forced families to consume flour that was ground from wheat mixed with cactus plants and cases from Sindh where people consumed tea as a way of killing hunger so as to save on food. He said as safety net programs like BISP were important as emergency supports, there was no substitute for a sound macroeconomic policy that would generate wage jobs and enhance real incomes. In his concluding remarks, Wolfgang Herbinger, the WFP Representative acknowledged the consensus that emerged over the growing food insecurity risks and the need for a comprehensive food security strategy for Pakistan. Summarizing key recommendations of the workshop, he stressed the importance of enhanced productivity and diversity in food production in order to address food insecurity and malnutrition. Focus on small farmer agriculture and effectively targeted safety nets for vulnerable households were other priorities identified by the expert consultation.

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