By: Waqas Sher
Global communities observed the highly significant World Food Day on this auspicious Monday, October 16, 2023. World Food Day was historically recognised during the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) conference held on October 16, 1979. This event took place thirty-four years after the establishment of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. In the remarkable display of global solidarity, over 150 nations were united to recognise World Food Day as a momentous occasion for humanity’s collective commitment to combat hunger and ensure sustainable agricultural practices.
In the pursuit of global food security, the role played by the FAO cannot be overlooked. In its ongoing efforts to bolster the availability and affordability of food, the FAO is diligently working towards progress. A noble objective lies at the core of the FAO’s mission: “Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO’s efforts – to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.”
Considering the ever-pressing issue of food security on a global scale, it is heartening that international communities have recognized its significance by incorporating it into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDG-2 stands as a beacon of hope to the ambitious target of ‘Zero Hunger’ by the end of 2030. The primary target of this goal is to mitigate the prevalence of undernourishment, moderate or severe food insecurity, stunting, malnutrition, and anaemia.
The importance of availability and access in ensuring food security has been emphasised by FAO. Availability refers to the physical quantity of food that is present. Based on the research findings, it was observed that food production surpassed population growth by approximately 1 per cent. The global population has experienced a growth rate of 1.9 per cent, while food production has consistently grown at 2.8 per cent over the past five decades. Despite this, it is critical to consider purchasing power when discussing food access as it depends on the available resources and prices. In the context of food security, it becomes evident that availability is not a matter of concern but rather a concern about the crucial aspect of access.
Pakistan aims to achieve ‘Zero Hunger’ by 2023 due to the global relevance of food security. However, COVID-19 hampered Pakistan’s food security efforts. Before the outbreak, 16.44 per cent of households were food insecure. Among them, 14.64 per cent experienced moderate food insecurity, which means they had to skip a meal or consume less food than needed. Additionally, 1.80 per cent of households reported severe food insecurity, indicating that they went without eating for an entire day. It was evident that amid the pandemic, 40 per cent of Pakistani households were food insecure, with 30 per cent moderately and 10 per cent severely food insecure.
The current state of food insecurity in Pakistan in the post-pandemic era is far from satisfactory. According to a recent report from the World Food Programme (WFP), acute food insecurity – when a person’s inability to consume adequate food puts their lives or livelihoods in immediate danger – has increased significantly, rising from 26 per cent of the population in 2021 to 43 per cent in 2022. Pakistan is ranked sixth on the list of countries with a higher prevalence of acute food insecurity. The surge in food insecurity is characterised by economic and political crises, resulting in reduced purchasing power and the inability of households to afford food and essential goods.
Given Pakistan’s food insecurity landscape, it is crucial to take proactive measures to combat this pressing issue. To address this issue, it is essential to implement both short-term and long-term measures. Short-term measures should focus on building resilience to transitory shocks, while long-term measures should prioritise implementing social protection programmes. These programmes should include social safety nets (SSN), social assistance, social insurance, and labour market programmes.
Pakistan also takes advantage of the social safety net programme (SSNP) and currently operates almost 30 SSNPs. Amongst them, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) is a wide-ranging social safety net programme (SSNP) implemented throughout Pakistan, benefiting approximately 9 million individuals. The primary objective of BISP is to alleviate poverty by targeting poor and disadvantaged populations, thereby fostering social cohesion. BISP operates as an unconditional cash transfer initiative, but there is a need to consider integrating it with a conditional cash transfer programme that addresses food accessibility.
In Pakistan’s social welfare realm, the social safety net and social insurance programmes must attain a certain level of functionality. In today’s economic landscape, it is becoming increasingly evident that proactive steps must be taken to invigorate both active and passive labour market programmes. These measures are crucial for consumption smoothing to cope with adverse shocks and build resilience in the face of shocks.