Climate change and food security paradigms in Pakistan – 27 Aug 2022
An ominous trend of using agriculture land for non-cultivation purpose puts future food productivity at risk
Climate change is endangering the existence of humanity on earth through its devastating effects including drought, desertification and excessive floods. It is affecting global food security by decreasing agricultural productivity. Consequently, world’s food system remains incapable of meeting the needs of growing population. Currently more than 821 million people have been identified as undernourished due to chronic food scarcity. According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 1,850 million people have no access to quality food. Unavailability of food has caused micronutrient deficiency among one billion people. Most people in poor countries are unable to get nutritionally balanced diet which causes several deficiencies and weakens immunity against diseases. Further, food inflation is soaring, and the US dollar is getting stronger than currencies of most developing countries by pushing them to a dangerous situation of bankruptcy causing widespread unemployment, poverty and hunger.
In our country, agriculture offers bleak picture of food security and Pakistan’s climate sensitive regions are becoming incapable of achieving productivity targets and their vulnerability is being increased by deforestation, dwindling freshwater supplies, groundwater depletion and ecosystem damaged by extreme weather events including heatwaves and heavy floods. Moreover, an ominous trend of using agriculture land for non-cultivation purpose puts future food productivity at risk. These complex issues associated with climate change have contributed to growing hunger in our country. Thus, ensuring that people have access to healthy food is an enormous challenge at national, regional and global level. According to World Food Program (WFP), there is growing food insecurity in the world — 41 million people are on the verge of famine. Pakistan ranks 92nd among 116 nations worldwide on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021.
Food situation in Pakistan is going from bad to worse because of climatic apocalypse. Pakistan ranks among the top ten countries most vulnerable to climate stress, according to Global Climate Risk Index 2021. Variation in climatic conditions has badly affected water resources which are shrinking considerably due to mismanagement of climate-driven changes. Development of water resources has not been adequately prioritised by government even though it has been revealed by National Security Policy document 2022-26 that Pakistan ranks third on the list of countries facing acute water shortage with per capita water standing 908 cubic meters in the year 2021 down from 1,500 cubic meters in the year 2009.
Pakistan claims to have the most extensive irrigation system in the world catering to a command area of 35 million acres. Several water engineering projects were undertaken during the colonial and post-colonial times to establish the world’s largest gravity-driven irrigation network on the Indus. Nevertheless, Pakistan faces many challenges — such as numerous policy and operational problems, irrigation subsidies, cost recovery and inequitable water distribution — due to the absence of good water governance policy. Consequently, planning about how water should be wisely used is missing.
Pakistan is one of the most populous countries in the world. Feeding Pakistan’s growing population is a formidable challenge. According to WFP, 43% of Pakistanis are food insecure, 18% of whom are facing acute food shortage. In Pakistan, agriculture is a major contributor to food needs and rural employment. However, its performance remains dependent on climatic conditions. Variation in climate affects the agricultural productivity which results in increasing food insecurity and affects Pakistan’s export sector. Thus, bringing change in crop patterns by adopting climate-friendly crops, soil refreshing techniques and heat-tolerant seeds is indispensable for handling climate effects. Farmers should be encouraged through establishment of good market facilities and financial incentives for switching over to non-traditional way of cultivation, crop diversification and climate-smart farming.
Further use of latest technology in land development, irrigation, crop-production and crop-protection and other farm-mechanisation activities is considered vital for higher productivity. Further, maintaining affordable cost of farm inputs including high-yielding varieties and ensuring development of cost-effective agricultural equipment and machinery powered by renewable energy sources as an alternative to highly expensive fuel causing environmental degradation can significantly improve agriculture.
It can be argued that theoretically food security is an integral part of overall planning of resources, but it is not being demonstrated practically at any level. Mishandling of recent abnormal monsoon downpour is a glaring example of dereliction of duties on the part of authorities in dealing with devastation caused by torrential rain in various regions of Pakistan, including worst-hit Sindh and Balochistan. They did not come up with contingency plans neither for protection of lives of people nor for protection of crops damaged by excessive floods. The absence of a concrete plan and strategy and the lack of coordination between various government institutions have made it harder to handle disaster.
However, ruling parties fettered by political compulsions are reluctant to devote their attention to land reforms, irrigation development, transfer of green technologies from developed countries, formulation of farmer-friendly agricultural policies, and leading the change in pursuit of green political ideals to deal with irreversible change in climate. Government can tackle worsening effects of climate change by protecting atmosphere through slashing carbon emissions under decarbonisation campaigns, including abandoning use of fossil fuels in industry and transport and power generation. Considering the importance of clean environment for producing nutritionally balanced food crops; plantation drives and adoption of modern techniques of recycling and waste management should be encouraged to deal with the issue of environmental pollution.
Moreover, people in our country are being disillusioned by media. Their attention is being diverted from real issues. For instance, they are not being adequately informed about the implications of imminent global food crisis, and the story of climate change is not unfolded by media in a way that resonates with the public. Food situation is going to be seriously affected not only by natural calamities, including recent droughts in USA, Canada and India and heavy rainfall in Pakistan, but also by international events such as the Russia-Ukraine war. Pakistan as a food importer from a variety of countries, including Ukraine, must take efforts for ensuring domestic production which has already been wrecked by heavy rain. Thus, government must preempt the flooding and start 3-R activities of rescue, relief and rehabilitation for flood victims. It must put a ban on export of wheat and maintain strong checks on smuggling of food to neighbouring countries to save its population from hunger and avoid harrowing situation that may bring the country close to crisis beyond its control.