Revitalizing Agriculture: Enhancing Food Security in Pakistan

Revitalizing Agriculture: Enhancing Food Security in Pakistan

By: Muhtasim Afridi

For a huge period in the history of Pakistan agriculture has been the most common practice of landlords. In parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Balochistan and specifically Punjab,people are widely into farming and raising livestock – given the abundance of fertile land and the presence of freshwater rivers. That is perhaps the reason why Pakistan has remained an agrarian societysince its inception. However, there are problems with the traditional methods of crop productionand distribution, which undermines the agriculture sector, consequently, leading to food insecurity in Pakistan.

The population of the country is snowballing with each fleeting year. It currently stands at 241.5 million, increasing annually with an average of 2.55% since 2017 – according to the National Population and Housing Census 2023. The scientific community has continuously been warning states about the negative impacts of overpopulation. The disparity between population growth and production growth ultimately contributes to food insecurity. However, Pakistan seems oblivious to this issue – as pera report, the country stands 99th on the Global Hunger Index, which is a serious situationand will continue to be worse if not taken care of.

On top of that, floods remain a huge problem for farmersin Pakistan. Since its independence, the country has received 29 floods – and in the last decade, it has witnessed floods each year consecutively. The 2022 floods destroyed crops on a massive scale, hence resulting in food shortages all over the country. This ultimately led to all-time high prices of wheat, rice, fruits and vegetables – making it difficult for consumers to buy. Each time floods hit the country; the farmers demand subsidies from the government which is never a long-term solution. Instead, the construction of dams and widening of irrigation canals might help in overcoming this issue.

To meet the needs of the public, countries around the globe are on a quest to develop more efficient means which could accelerate the processes – particularly in the field of agriculture to double up the yield. Unfortunately, Pakistan is an oligarchic state – ruled and driven by the old people, where the decisions favourancient methods of agriculture. Hence, it lacks the touch of technology, ultimately affecting the outcome.Contrary to that, various states adopted innovative concepts such as precision agriculture technology, agroforestry, and vertical farming.

Similarly, Pakistan needs to keep up the pace in the race of technology. The failure to address food insecurity reveals the weakness of the government – one thing is for sure it cannot work in isolation from the private sector. The government can collaborate with educational institutions or private firms for research and development. There are 33 top organizations in Pakistan working on developing efficient means for agriculture. For instance, ‘Crop2x’is a private limited which provides IOT and AI services to increase crop yield.

Similarly, LUMS University provides research on technology to enterprises such as NestleandBayer. Regrettably, the government rarely welcome innovation, which is the reason for technical backwardness.
It sounds absurd to criticize the government alone, while not mentioning other stakeholders contributing to food insecurity. The role of middlemen, wholesalers, and retailers in the distribution process is central to the discussion. In most cases, these stakeholders, specifically the middlemen, exploit the pricesfor their interest, eventually making it hard for daily wagers to buy food at cheap and convenient prices. The lower and middle-class citizens are already struggling to survive the inflation storm, and with the additional misadventures of middlemen, their lives are further at stake.

The world has now transformed to a greater extent, it has become more connected than ever. The decision-makers must consider new methods to revitalize the agriculture sector, otherwise technological backwardness will take Pakistan on the back foot. Agriculture used to be one of Pakistan’s major sources of economic growth – given the large number of exports to other countries. However, the figure has decreased over the period. A recent report shows that Pakistan’s wheat productionis estimated at 29.69 million tons against the set target of 32.2 million tons for the Rabi season 2023-2024, which is a loss.

The irony is that wheat was once among Pakistan’s top exports, and now things are on the contrary – it imports from Russia and Ukraine.However, the government can still decrease the gap between population growth and food production with the adoption of precision agriculture technology. It will not only help in increasing the yield but also reduce waste and function more efficiently. The initial cost might be highbut dreams of becoming an Asian tiger come at a high cost.

In addition, since the government is battling with other problems, the fate of the poor and undernourished segments of society remains in question.There are various cases of suicides reported each year just because of non-availability or high prices of food. The state is a creation of people; therefore, the individuals must be the key priority of the state. A little investment by the government can transform the agriculture sector – consequently increasing economic activity and ensuring food security in the country. Furthermore, a hard check on middlemenin the distribution process would be a sigh of relief for the people. The government must get rid of these exploiters that have plagued Pakistan for decades.

The writer is an editorial intern at the Associated Press of Pakistan; he can be reached at: [email protected]