Pakistan has made significant progress in food production over the last several decades. However, food security is still a key challenge due to high population growth, rapid urbanization, low purchasing power, high price fluctuations, erratic food production, and inefficient food distribution systems. According to the Food Security Assessment Survey (FSA), 2016, 18% of the population in Pakistan is undernourished. National Institute of Population Studies (NIPS) reported a high level of severe stunting (45%), wasting (15%), and underweight (30%). The malnourishment problems are high in rural areas (46%) and in certain regions like FATA (58%), GB (51%), and Baluchistan (52%). Similarly, around half of the population is consuming less than the dietary requirement of Vitamin-A and Iron. Food insecurity in Pakistan is primarily attributable to the limited economic access of the poorest and most vulnerable to food.
A key factor limiting access to food, particularly since 2007, is the increase in the prices of essential food items. With the poorest families spending a substantial part of their income on food, the price rise has exacerbated undernutrition and vulnerability. To address the challenge of food insecurity, the Government of Pakistan has taken the initiative to formulate a national food security policy.
Wheat, rice, and sugarcane being major food crops were given more attention in previous policies. The other major factors underlying this underperformance include a slow rate of technological innovation; problems with the quality, quantity, and timeliness of input supply; inadequate extension services and technology transfer; limited investment in construction, road maintenance, and market infrastructure; marketing and trade restrictions; pest and livestock disease problems; feed & fodder shortages; limited amounts of credit for agricultural production and processing; and lack of agriculture-specific loan products. For balanced food intake, there is a need to focus on the production of diverse foods, i.e., vegetables, fruits, nuts, oilseed, pulses, and livestock products: these not only contribute around 50% of dietary energy but also significantly contributes to nutritional food security.
Besides that, the harmonization of non-agricultural activities, such as those related to nutrition, trade, natural resource management, non-farm income opportunities, targeted income support, and other innovative options within the agriculture sector, are also recognized as important steps in achieving food security. Pakistan needs to build a strong resilient agriculture sector to cope with the climate change risks. Climate change projections indicate that there will be greater variability in the weather with more frequent extreme events such as floods and droughts. Much of the impact of these changes will be on the agriculture sector, which needs mechanisms to cope and adapt.
It is further projected that there will be immense pressure on the limited surface as well as groundwater resources. These challenges could be managed through adopting soil and water conservation technologies, enhanced use of high-efficiency irrigation systems, developing drought-resistant varieties, and introducing climate smart agriculture.