Pakistan News

Food security policy on back burner

Food security policy on back burner

FEDERAL Minister for National Food Security and Research Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan stated on November 21 that a national food security policy was in its final stage and would be announced soon after a consensus was forged among all stakeholders.

The core objective of the policy is to reduce the current food insecurity situation by 50pc by 2030 and to bring down the poverty and food insecurity to zero level by 2050. The draft of the policy which sets out ‘a vision and a goal for agriculture and food security, along with a set of policy directions’ has been uploaded on the website of the ministry for comments and suggestions from the members of parliament and other stakeholders and will later be presented before the National Assembly for debate and approval.

The draft, it says, would facilitate the provinces to formulate their own policies and strategies as well as formulate investment plans for both the public and private sectors because, after the passage of the 18th Amendment, the development of agriculture and ensuring food security has become their responsibility.

The minister’s statement gives an impression, to the uninitiated at least, of the policy being a recent development. But, to one’s surprise, the posting date of the draft on the ministry’s website is January 11, 2013. It means the 23-page draft was prepared by the previous PPP-led government with the help of, as it says, experts of the ministry, its attached research organisations and was supported by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The PML-N government, coming to power after the general elections, did not disown the draft, nor made any tangible efforts to implement it. There has been no explanation from any quarters as to why the implementation of the policy has been delayed. However, the federal minister said last month that his ministry would soon conduct a survey to collect data on food security situation in the country. The sample would include 20, 000 individuals from rural and urban areas.

Meanwhile, the title of the policy has been changing during the last three year period. While Mr Bosan calls it ‘national food security policy’ the original draft posted on the website describes it as ‘agriculture and food security policy.’ On many occasions, it was called ‘national food and nutrition security policy’ and was published in the press accordingly. At a function in Islamabad on April 22, 2014 President Mamnoon Hussain also described the policy as ‘national food and nutrition security policy’.

An SDPI study recently pointed out that the policy draft, with its two components, i.e. agriculture and food security, is silent on many issues related to food security; rather its primary focus is on agriculture development. The policy draft says that central focus of the policy would be on achieving sustainable growth in the productivity of major crops as well as the promotion of high value agriculture. Hence, the policy aims to increase the economic access to food for the socially deprived communities of the marginal areas.

Meanwhile, Rajab Ali Khan Baloch, parliamentary secretary of the ministry of food security, was quoted recently to have stated that “the policy draft being discussed at various levels is the agriculture policy and food security and nutrition policy is one of its components and it is not all about food security.” He separates the issues of food security policy and the famine in Thar, saying deaths in Thar were not due to an absence of a national policy or lack of food. Ironically, there were abundant stocks of wheat with the provincial government in Sindh at the time of the famine.

Regarding role of the provinces, the draft points out that some provinces have started work on preparing of provincial polices, strategies and investment plans. However, the provinces, it says, still need ‘an overall national vision and direction for agricultural development to ensure that synergies are maximised and overlaps are minimised.’

Mr Bosan reiterated last month what his ministry had stated a year ago. He stated that a national food security council is being set up to help resolve contentious issues between the federal and provincial governments arising from passage of the 18th Amendment.

Prime Minister of the country will be chairman of the council and various federal ministers its members. The original news item was published on August 17, 2014. It shows how some policy matters are announced at top level but not pursued even after lapse of a year.

It was amazing to observe two leading farmers bodies in Sindh demanding in their December 6 joint session return of agriculture sector to the centre ‘in the interest of the national economy’. They expressed total dismay over Sindh’s attitude towards the sector and farmers.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, December 14th, 2015

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