Energy and Food Security

The dynamics of energy and food security in Pakistan are quite complex, and therefore warrant close scrutiny. While discussing the complex connection in Pakistan between energy and food production, we shall examine how the intensifying demand for food exacerbates the strain on the state’s energy system. Moreover, we will unpack the economic impact of this interdependency and outline ways forward for a sustainable future.
Undoubtedly, food production is an energy dependent activity. Provision of energy is also a requirement for the whole food supply chain, from tilling fields to transport and storage of crops.
In Pakistan, agriculture is of utmost importance to the economy, providing thousands of jobs and ensuring food supplies. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) states that the agriculture sector contributes 24 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employs almost half of the labour force and is also the biggest contributor to exports. Pakistan’s agriculture sector remains insatiable on energy that is mostly fossil fuels that power equipment, irrigation, and shipping. As a burgeoning population necessitates increased food production. Nevertheless, it results into increased demand on energy sector in Pakistan.
Pakistan, like many developing nations, faces a dual challenge: The necessity to satisfy the growing demand for food with a reliable and sustainable energy flow. In this case, the increasing population puts pressure on the agricultural practices such that high food production becomes essential. Nonetheless, this augmented demand imposes a massive demand on the energy system. The energy problems facing Pakistan are multi-dimensional. Firstly, the dependence on non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels (approximately 65% of the energy mix), poses a risk of pollution and the country’s vulnerability to global price fluctuations. The volatility can increase production costs that translate as elevated food prices that resonate across all socio-economic segments.
More so, the unstable power supply, a perennial challenge in Pakistan, causes extensive interruptions in the agricultural activities. Intermittent supply of electricity and gas can also lead to water shortage for irrigation, thereby having an immediate effect on crop harvest and food security. It further makes it difficult to address food security issues. The complexity of the interplay between energy and food security has far-reaching economic consequences. These energy price fluctuations directly affect the cost of food production, transportation, and storage. With energy price increase, farmers face high production costs and end up passing these expenses to consumers in the form of food costs. This dynamic has particularly adverse impacts on low-income households, leading to increasing food prices, thereby increasing poverty and worsening food insecurity.
Moreover, energy deficiencies and supply interruptions can lead to decreased agricultural output. The lack of irrigation facilities and storage facilities leads to crop losses that also reduce the incomes of farmers. These also translate to huge economic losses to the country at large.
Additionally, Pakistan’s import of oil and gas contributes significantly to the balance of payments. The country spends a sizeable amount of its import bill on energy imports which could have been used for important sectors like health, education, and infrastructure development.
Pakistan should therefore put in place a comprehensive policy that combines renewable energy and sustainability in agriculture. Here are some strategic considerations to mitigate risks and chart a course toward a more secure future:
Diversification of Energy Sources: Therefore, the direction that Pakistan ought to take is one that will gradually wean it off carbon-based energy sources. Renewable energy resources including solar, wind and hydro power, for example, constitutes an investment that may boost energy stability and reduce environmental burdens.
Efficient Water Management: Efficient use of water resources is essential for modernizing irrigation methods and strengthening agricultural development in the context of energy shortage. The use of precision irrigation technologies such as drip irrigation could be the solution to the problem of excess water wastage.
Promoting Energy-Efficient Agriculture: The implementation of efficient farming tools and techniques ought to be encouraged. Incentivizing adoption of modern, eco-friendly farming practices could certainly help suppress the agricultural energy profile.
Enhancing Storage and Distribution: Enhanced investment in cold-storage facilities and improved food supply security can significantly curb food loss due to spoilage and inefficient transport systems.
Research and Innovation: Such innovation may be realized through investment in research and development in agriculture and renewable energy technologies that seek to address food security and sustainable energy for all.
Education and Awareness: Enlightening farmers and consumers on the need of conserving energy and implementing sustainable agricultural methods could create permanent change in the utilization of resources.
Pakistan is endowed with a long history of agriculture, but increasing energy needs must guide prudence and creativeness. If we could embrace renewable energies for power generation, introduce new crop strains, and manage resources efficiently, then we would still have a chance to compete with other nations.

The writer is an electrical engineer and works in the downstream natural gas sector.

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