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Conference planned on food security policy

The Ministry of National Food Security and Research is planning to hold a conference in Islamabad after the announcement of federal budget to finalise the country’s ‘agriculture and national food security policy’ which has been revised several times but kept pending for the past five years.

According to Minister for National Food Security and Research Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan, the ministry has received inputs to the policy from all the provinces and stakeholders, and instead of going to all the four provinces, it has been decided that a national conference will be held in Islamabad to finalise its recommendations.

Once the recommendations are finalised, the policy will be submitted to the cabinet for approval.

Officials of the ministry, when asked about the delay in adopting the policy, said it had been revised twice and inputs from the provinces and stakeholders took some time to come. The policy was framed during the final year of the last government of the Pakistan Peoples Party.

Agricultural experts said the delay in finalising the policy was having a negative impact on the agriculture sector which faced a number of major challenges since the cost of production had increased tremendously.

There was a need to create balance in the policy since major crops were performing well but small crops like pulses were not doing so good, they said.

International agricultural research bodies are anxious to see the national food security policy adopted by the government. They are concerned that Pakistan, having an agro-economy, still does not have a food security policy.

Mr Bosan said that the census currently under way would establish the level of urbanisation in the country. Pakistan is among the most urbanised countries in South Asia.

According to the Global Food Security Report 2017, urbanisation poses a considerable challenge to South Asian food security.

Urban food consumption patterns are not uniform across South Asia, but some common trends emerge.

The report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says that food accounts for a smaller share of consumption expenditure in urban areas than in rural areas, and urban households have more diverse diets than do rural households. Food consumption patterns are changing across the region, with consumption of non-cereals growing in both rural and urban areas.

Factors underlying the poor performance include a slow rate of technological innovations; problems with quality, quantity and timeliness of input supply, limited investment in construction and maintenance of infrastructure, marketing and trade restrictions; pest and livestock disease problems, and limited amounts of credit for agricultural production and processing and the lack of agriculture-specific loan products.

The IFPRI says the national food security policy of Pakistan will promote long-term agricultural growth. While responsibility for agricultural policy lies primarily with the provincial governments, the Punjab government earmarked $956 million for 2016-17, beyond its routine allocation to the sector, to address farm community issues and food security. The provincial governments have also drafted separate agriculture and food policies, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas had drafted policies on sanitation, drinking water and agriculture.

In 2017, South Asian countries are expected to reform their agriculture sectors, increase openness to trade and take appropriate measures to adapt to climate change and weather uncertainties, the report says.

It says that South Asian agricultural and food systems are at a crossroads. Climate variability and extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and temperature change, that threaten food and nutrition security, are becoming serious challenges in South Asian countries. Unplanned urbanisation is progressing rapidly and without critical civic amenities such as safe drinking water, drainage, housing and hygiene facilities.

Food and nutrition security can be enhanced in South Asia by improving food and agricultural systems through increasing efficiencies, reducing postharvest losses and developing the agro-processing sector.

Intraregional trade has considerable scope for growth: despite regional cooperation agreements, regional trade accounts for just five per cent of South Asian trade compared to 25pc in Southeast Asia.

Reporter. Conference planned on food security policy. Dawn, April 24, 2017.

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