The State of Food Security in Pakistan

the State of food

The Global Food Security Index 2015, an annual publication of the Economist Intelligence Unit, has placed Pakistan at 77th position among 109 countries. This highlights the urgency of the issue for Pakistan. At a time when the country’s population is increasing rapidly, there is a looming threat that the country may become food insecure in the near future. This situation poses a major challenge to the policymakers in Pakistan especially when the GFS Index reports that yields in northern and eastern India, Pakistan, southern Nepal and Bangladesh, which account for 15% of global production, are at high risk from rising temperatures. This piece is an effort to explore various aspects of the issue and the importance of resolving it at the earliest.


Pakistan is a low-income developing country with agriculture being its most important sector due to its primary commitment of providing healthy food to country’s fast-growing population. As per the facts and figures provided in the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2014-15, agriculture accounted for 20.9 percent of the country’s GDP and was a source of livelihood of 43.5 percent of country’s rural population during the said period. The government claims that this very sector has traditionally sustained a satisfactory growth to ensure food security for country’s growing population. But, in a stark contrast to this, media reports suggest that more than 90 million Pakistanis are food insecure and the number may increase in the coming years.


The term ‘food security’ refers to the people’s access to adequate amount of food for meeting dietary energy needs that implies for many as self-sufficiency and as producing required food domestically. A country is self-sufficient in food when it can manage the balance between supply and demand by producing domestically.

According to the Final Declaration of World Forum on Food Sovereignty (2001), food security is the people’s right to define their own policies and strategies for the sustainable production, distribution and consumption of food that guarantees the right to food for the entire population, on the basis of small- and medium-sized production, respecting their own cultures and the diversity of peasant, fishing and indigenous forms of agricultural production, marketing and management of rural areas, in which women play a fundamental role.


Food security is a flexible concept as reflected in many attempts at developing a definition in research and policy usage. Even a decade ago, there were about 200 definitions in published writings. Whenever the concept is introduced in the title of a study or its objectives, it is necessary to look closely to establish the explicit or implied definition. However, following are some important definitions of the term:

1. The World Food Summit (1996)

“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs, and their food preferences are met for an active and healthy life.”

This definition encompasses five fundamental aspects: availability, access, stability, nutritional status and preferences of food. All of these components are influenced by physical, economic, political and other conditions within communities and even within households, and are often destabilised by shocks such as natural disasters and conflicts.

2. World Health Organization

“Food security means that:

  • all people at all times have both physical and economic access to enough food for an active, healthy life;
  • the ways in which food is produced and distributed are respectful of the natural processes of the earth and thus sustainable;
  • both the consumption and production of food are governed by social values that are just and equitable as well as moral and ethical;
  • the ability to acquire food is ensured;
  • the food itself is nutritionally adequate and personally and culturally acceptable; and
  • the food is obtained in a manner that upholds human dignity.”


As per the definition given at the World Food Summit of 1996, following are the three pillars of food security:

  1. Food availability: sufficient quantities of food available on a consistent basis.
  2. Food access: having sufficient resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet.
  3. Food use: appropriate use based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate water and sanitation.


The history of food security dates back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 in which the right to food was recognised as a core element of standard of living and also to the world food crisis of 1972–1974. The food security concept continued developing overtime and approximately 200 definitions and 450 indicators are now available in the literature.


The two most important dimensions of food security are:

1. Availability

The availability refers to sufficient quantities of quality/nutritious food available to every individual in the country. However, even with sufficient availability of food at the country level, food availability is a serious concern in areas where there are the problems of armed conflicts, non-availability of arable lands, and existence of prolonged droughts — this is true for many areas in Pakistan. The distribution of food stuff in these areas is also faulty.

2. Access

The access refers to the capacity to produce, buy and/or acquire appropriate nutritious food by the households and the individuals. Having access requires that sufficient food is consistently available in the market. But, the availability of sufficient food at country/local level does not guarantee that all people are food– secure, since low incomes, lack of roads and infrastructure could deny access to desired quantities of quality food. Therefore, both availability and access parts of food security are inseparably inter-linked.


Soaring food prices, floods, economic slowdown, poverty, armed conflicts, terrorism, energy crisis and political instability are some of the major reasons behind rising food insecurity in Pakistan. Here is a brief description of some of these factors:

1. Rising Food Prices

Food prices have been on the surge in Pakistan specifically because of natural calamities such as floods and earthquakes, rising fuel prices, energy crisis and high tariffs. High and volatile food prices in Pakistan have forced nearly 120 million of the total population to spend 50-70 percent of their income on food.

2. Floods

Pakistan suffered from 21 major floods between 1950 and 2011. Moreover, in the recent years, the frequency of floods and the resultant devastation have also increased manifold. The devastating 2010 floods caused the highest damage in terms of economic cost to the tune of $10bn.

3. Insufficient Storage Facilities

The produce of major agricultural items has increased during recent years but, unfortunately, no solid steps have been taken to establish facilities where the excess produce may be stored for future use. Lack of storage facilities leads to the export of major crops like wheat, and when their shortage occurs in the country, the government has to import such items on escalated prices.

4. Water Shortages

Water scarcity is one of the key factors that hamper food production. Pakistan currently has a water storage capacity equal to about 30 days of mean annual discharge. New reservoirs are thus crucial, especially given the looming water and energy crises. Pakistan did not build large dams on priority basis. However, recent food, water and energy crises have demonstrated the need for large reservoirs, and the government is considering building those.


“Pakistan Vision 2025” envisages seven priority areas of action termed as “Pillars” and the Pillar IV is titled as “Water, Energy and Food Security”. It envisages vision and road map for future growth and development of Food and Agriculture sectors along with allied subsectors.

Pakistan Vision 2025 seeks a Pakistan where “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. It envisages food security in the context of the entire supply-chain from production, processing, storage and distribution to consumption.

Top 5 objectives for achieving food security are:

  1. To protect the most food-insecure segments of the population through effective relief measures, including long-term arrangements and adaptation mechanisms.
  2. To create a modern, efficient and diversified agricultural sector — aligned with associated water and energy infrastructure — that can ensure a stable and adequate provision of basic food supplies for the country’s population, and provide high quality products to its industries, and for export.
  3. To optimize production and supply mix in line with current and projected needs by leveraging country’s unique strengths.
  4. To ensure that the entire supply chain related to food security is geared towards provision of stable and affordable access to adequate, nutritious and safe food for a healthy life.
  5. To use the resource base in an efficient and sustainable manner — with outcome–based benchmarks agreed in line with regional and global standards.


  1. The “Agriculture and Food Security Policy” announced by the present government in 2013 must be implemented in letter and spirit.
  2. Government must direct its efforts to improving livelihoods and agricultural productivity, reducing waste and the demand for resource-intensive food, and improving governance in the food system.
  3. Local-level attempts to empower people and to create sustainable rural livelihoods are highly important.
  4. Continuous education for farmers through mass media, short courses, and exchange programmes among other South Asian states should be initiated.
  5. Agricultural universities should provide scholarships to students doing research on increase in agriculture produce.
  6. Research on high value crops, livestock, fisheries, forest conservation, post-harvest handling, irrigation water management and management of soil problems should be given much higher priority.
  7. The government should plan for the future needs, taking into account agricultural, domestic and industrial demand of the future and impact on the environment.
  8. Adequate and timely availability of water for farming should be ensured as it will lead to enhanced food production ergo availability.
  9. There is also an urgent need to incorporate climate change adaptation into the National Climate Policy. Food security should be the top priority in the climate change scenario.
  10. In addition to those steps, the government also needs to find ways to introduce urban agriculture, especially horticulture produce so that fruit and vegetables supplies could improve in the cities.


With a large portion of its population undernourished and hungry, food insecurity is assuming greater urgency. Pakistan simply cannot afford to delay resolution of this threat. Pakistan is fortunate to have a vast fertile land and an effective irrigation system. We are blessed with four seasons and our farmers are hard working. All we need is good network of transportation of farm products from field to storage. We should also add value to our items and improve packaging for exports.

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