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Combating the challenge of food insecurity

Tariq Mahmood Khan, a lecturer at the University of Central Punjab, Faisalabad Campus, discusses the growing concern of food insecurity across the world. He further explains what part Covid 19 and climate change have played in increasing this issue and how can we resolve this problem.

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Amin an Afghan refugee, a resident of Jalalabad, migrated to Pakistan in 2002 first time. He lived in a refugee camp and then he moved to Peshawar where he worked as a vegetable vendor. After five years, he returned home and once again he migrated to Pakistan but this time he was with his family. He lives, now, in Hasan Abdal serving in a mosque as Khadim having a low income. His wife and eight children, aging from one to twelve years, live in a one-room house provided to him by mosque administration.

His all children are having stunted growth and pale faces indicating food deficiency and malnutrition. Refugees residing in camps, throughout the world are facing this same problem. This issue is not only specific to the refugees but is present globally. The latest data says that more than 800 million people are facing it. We simply call it food insecurity. The number of food insecure people is increasing. This number was 688 million just one year ago. This problem is not only present in the poor countries but also in the world’s most prosperous nation, that is, the USA also faces it.

Read more: Afghans facing intense food insecurity: WFP

Why the world is food insecure?

According to a study, more than 17 million were food insecure in 2014 in USA this number has increased this year as a result of the Covid pandemic. Why is it so? Here we need to understand the term ‘food insecurity. Experts say that if a person is unable to fulfill his food and nutrition requirements due to any reason, he is food insecure. This food insecurity is caused by multiple factors.

According to FAO, at present, the biggest reason of food insecurity is the occurrence and repetition of natural disasters as a result of global warming. Floods, unusual rains and weather patterns, droughts, storms and heatwaves are these natural disasters that play a critical role in reducing crop yield.

We are getting acquainted with a new term, that is, climate refugees. These are the people displaced from their native homes as a result of disastrous climatic incidents. Obviously, they are victims of various problems including food insecurity.

Read more: Enhancing agricultural productivity to tackle food insecurity

The Covid-19 has also caused economic instability, business slow down and reduction in international trade which has led to global food deficiency and malnutrition. The consequences of Covid-19 are getting severe in its second year. UNWFP says that the number of people who were exposed to famine in 2020 was 150 million which jumped to 270 million this year. Similarly, many parts of the world experienced drought during this period and their number increased from 34 million to 41 million during the last year. FAO has further warned that 24 countries may face mild to severe food deficiency by the end of the year 2021.

How climate change contributes to food insecurity?

With the increase of greenhouse gases, the issue of food insecurity is getting crucial, because, according to experts, the amount of nutrients, minerals, vitamins and protein is gradually decreasing in all types of vegetative foods, especially the increasing amount of Carbon and its oxides are causing it. The rising earth’s mean temperature is also a big cause of the drop in crop yield and it is also affecting the crop rotation cycle. It means that if we remain unable to achieve the 1.5oC target during this century, set by Paris Agreement, the issue of food insecurity will continue to beef up even at a greater pace than now.

The rising mean temperature of the earth is also affecting the oceans and consequently, marine life. This rise is forcing marine species to move from one area to another. This is depriving a lot of people of seafood. This deficiency of seafood is getting severe in some specific areas causing food insecurity. Climate change is causing floods on one side and at the same time water scarcity on other hand. Many fertile and cultivated areas are becoming deserts.

Read more: Fertilizer industry warns of food insecurity caused by gas diversions

Anthropogenic factors of food insecurity are important. These can be controlled by remedial and preventive measures but it is not so easy in the case of climatic factors. Global warming is having a direct effect on people’s jobs and businesses. Many countries that are growers of food are becoming importers of food making it costly and less available. So, the competition for food is increasing. It seems that in the future, the importers of food will suffer more. All these matters are adding to food insecurity.

Food insecurity prevails at different levels in the world. Chronic or long-term food insecurity is seen in the countries or regions which are unsuccessful in solving this problem. Ethiopia and some other African countries are its examples. Afghanistan is also facing long-term food insecurity because it is under war for more than four decades. It has caused severe food insecurity in the country.

Pakistan as a food insecure country

Short term food insecurity is observed in the regions which face problems but soon recover from it. Its best example is the Northern areas of Pakistan. In 2005, as a result of the destructive earthquake, thousands of people were food insecure but soon they recovered from it as a result of massive rehabilitation efforts. Seasonal food insecurity is also a few factor in specific areas.

Read more: Govt to establish a centralized database for food stock

The economy of Pakistan is fully backed by the agricultural sector as it generates about 20% of the country’s GDP. About 60% of our population is totally dependent on it economically. The fertile lands of Punjab and Sind were once termed as the house of the granary. This sector provides the largest quantity of raw material to our industry. But unfortunately, we are among the highly food-insecure countries. According to UNFWP, in Pakistan, nearly 45% of children have stunted growth out of which 18% severely lacks food.

Pakistan was an exporter of food just a few decades ago but now we are importing food items in large quantities. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), we imported sugar, palm oil, wheat and pulses worth $ 7.5 billion in the year 2020-21 which was 15.08% of our total import bill and this quantity was 12% higher than the previous year. Secondly, we find that inside the country the prices of food items increased up to 33% during last year.

What steps can be taken to combat this issue?

This deficiency of food and its high cost is the major reason of food insecurity within the country. According to a survey conducted by Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement in 2019, more than 16% of households faced moderate to severe food shortages. This percentage was up to 26% in some districts of Sind and Baluchistan.

Read more: How important is food regulation for Pakistan?

Many initiatives are required to ensure food security in the country. Following four major steps are needed to take on an emergency basis. First, population growth must be controlled along with economic development to get rid of the vicious economic circle. Secondly, the government must give priority to the agricultural sector. Farmers need proper help that may be in the form of subsidies or maybe in some other form. Thirdly, effective measures are the need time for poverty alleviation. Fourthly and most importantly, we are to stand with the global community to fight climate change.

The present government claims several reforms in the economic sector and in the fight against global warming but the fact is that a common person finds no change in the status quo. In case of failure to address these issues, we may face harsh circumstances in the near future.

The author is a lecturer in Pak. Studies and Head of Social Studies Department at the University of Central Punjab, Faisalabad Campus. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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