ISLAMABAD, JUN 1 /DNA/ – The Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research, Syed Fakhar Imam, despite unprecedented challenges Pakistan has faced during the last two years, the threats to food security were responded with robust actions by the government at every level.

During the time of Covid-19, locust attack was another major challenge. However, through collaborative efforts, we reduced the threat to minimum damage and are better prepared for future threats now. He said this while speaking at the webinar‘Ensuring food security amid Covid-19 through ecosystem restoration’ held by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in collaboration with UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

Fakhar Imam added further that failure in correctly monitoring food pricing leads to inaccurate predictions market price trends. Therefore, the government had purchased more wheat to mitigate any shortage.

“Despite Covid-19 and its impacts, we are having 6 bumper crops this year including wheat, rice and maize,” he  said and added further that the focus of the future efforts of the government would be on improving livestock sector, becoming self-reliant on edible oils andorganic farming. The challenges of climate change and expanding biodiversity, Pakistan needs to build up institutional mechanisms and make full use of its human resources. Therefore, the education to improve the agricultural sector and engage in more high-tech methods and set up our own silicon valleys is the need of hour, he concluded.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Food Security, MrJamshed Iqbal Cheema, while highlighting various problems in livestock sector, said that the government was shifting its focus to new areas in Balochistan and Thar desert areas, especially for crops such as cotton which have higher chances of success in such areas.

Mr Cheema added further that encouraging fruit tree plantation in urban areas through youth engagement, cultivation of medicinal plants and increasing production of crops such as ginger, cardamon, avocados, coffee is being focused. These super foods will be grown locally and given upscale production with the help of nurseries, scientists. and farmers to enhance exports of these crops in future. He highlighted that the government plans to provide loans to farmers, food processing plants across the country and commercial activities to rural sector to stop rural to urban migration. 

Senior Economist and Team Lead, FCDO, Pakistan, Mr Richard Ough, explained that how the subject of the ecosystem, food security and diversity are linked. He was of view that that food pricing and its monitoring provides valuable data that is important to ensure food security. He opined that the digital innovation could support the ambition of Pak’s government. Besides, initiatives to transform arid dessert lands to arable with smart water irrigation could be explored, he added.

DrAbid QaiyumSuleri, Executive Director, SDPI,earlier presented a brief overview of the topic and highlighted the importance of ecosystem restoration. It is important not only to protect global flora and fauna, but also in terms of ensuring food security, he emphasized.

Kashif Majeed Salik, Associate Research Fellow, SDPI, with the help of his detailed presentation, highlighted the Covid-19’s impact on agriculture and food system and explained that how transport restrictions, shortage of labour and machinery, increase in farm input prices and farmers’ limited access to market, caused major disruptions in food supply chain in Pakistan.

He informed the participants that the the most affected crops during the pandemic were perishable items such as fruits and vegetables and dairy products. Covid-19 coupled with climate change factors and locust attack disturbed the supply chain and demand.  He emphasized on the importance of data collection and said that a lot of important statistics were still missing.

MrSalik added further that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of cold storage, the dynamics of farm labour markets, importance of small-scale food processing for value addition, particularly partible commodities.  He said that the ability of public departments and institutions to secure food supply chains during pandemic was particularly low.  with a lack of data and information as most data collected based on self-reported assessments of a few distributors. His key   recommendations were as follows:

He highlighted that the risk assessments for local supply chain, digital innovations for efficient food system and agriculture, improved access to farm inputs and credit through agro-cooperatives, improved role of private sector, improved cold storage facilities and logistics system and informal labour registration and support programmes are the some of key areas for the consideration of the government in terms of future policies and administrative measures. Besides, identify changes in agroecological zones and endangered regional ecosystems of Pakistan,focus on climate smart agricultural and green growth and water conservation and management should be the key priorities, he concluded.