The fear of hunger is unfounded when combating the second, and deadlier, Covid-19 wave, claims the hierarchy of the departments of federal and provincial food/agriculture. Sufficient production, inventory and supply of critical food products are expected at reasonable rates over the next four winter months.
Deflecting concerns about the recent price rise and poor ties in the beef, grain and vegetable supply chain, they expressed trust in the mechanisms in place to threaten any challenge to food security.
They expressed hope that was rooted primarily in the success of the country on this count during the first wave of Covid-19, without convincingly substantiating their statements with verifiable evidence. During the lockout time, no significant disturbances were detected in the supply of essentials, although prices shot up in the ensuing months, necessitating imports of wheat and sugar.
This time around, we are better prepared to intervene successfully to ensure the availability of vital goods at reasonable prices for people across the country,” Dawn told a top official of the Department of Food Security over the phone from Islamabad. In the first week of January next year the food security dashboard will be launched. In order to ensure that no one sleeps hungry in Pakistan, a system has already been defined using technology to plug in district-wise data on the availability and pricing of basic food products, he added.
Federal and regional officials do not foresee any substantial interruption to the availability of important food goods.
The departments of provincial food and agriculture endorsed the role of the federal government on food provisions. They, however, told Dawn that the work on the proposed food security dashboard in their domains has yet to be started.
The federal and provincial governments are reintroducing restrictions to curb the outbreak of the pandemic, with a sudden increase in coronavirus events. The federal government, however has ruled out the prospect of a full lockout categorically. Speaking at a World Economic Forum function, Prime Minister Imran Khan reportedly said that with the high level of poverty and lessons learned from the first wave, we are aware that Pakistan can not afford to shut down companies and factories that employ individuals.
Food Security Secretary Ghufran Memon, responding to Dawn’s queries, said in a written answer that the country covers 90 percent of its indigenous nutritional requirements and depends on imports of pulses and edible oil. As Pakistan ended up harvesting 25.2 million tonnes of wheat against the national requirement of 27.3 million tonnes, he attributed the fall in wheat production to climate change. Wheat imports by the public and private sectors are in progress to offset the deficit,
He said the production of rice grew by 11.3pc. Approximately 8.1 million tonnes of wheat were harvested against local demand of 3.4 million tonnes, leaving large stocks for exports. Output of sugar cane rose by 13.9pc to touch the 75.6m tonne harvest mark. The 7.8m tonne maize crop meets local demand.
He said heavy rains in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa destroyed onion and tomato crops, but the next crop was strong and would soon be harvested. The private sector has reported to the government that adequate amounts will remain available for imported edible oil and pulses.
Such important food goods, such as poultry, beef, eggs and milk, would also remain appropriately available. In the second wave of Covid-19, we expect no shortages and the prime minister is directly tracking markets and supplies.
Over the phone from Quetta, Balochistan Food Minister Sardar Abdul Rehman Khetran told Dawn that the administration is aware of the population’s needs and has planned logistics to ensure deliveries of staples in winter at reasonable prices.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Food and Livestock Secretary Israr Khan talked about Punjab’s reliance on the province’s shortfall in wheat supply. The decision of the regional agricultural group to select a crop relies on the comparative benefit and competition. What earns them better, they rise. We’ve got to strategize accordingly. Yes, the province requires other provinces and Passco to buy staples, but it provides several fruits that are distributed in Pakistan. It also manufactures premium tobacco for the market.
He said his department is focusing on a multi-pronged solution that entails modifying the local population’s eating patterns and incorporating maize and rice into the daily cuisine. In the near future, we have steady supplies and expect no food shortages.
Syed Hussain Jahania Gardezi, Minister of Agriculture of Punjab, was also confident of the arrangements in place to ensure adequate supplies of important food products throughout the province. Food is available in Punjab. We mainly deal with the development of food crops, but as a member of the provincial team, I can assure you that we track the demand-and-supply situation very closely and can respond quickly to provide relief if appropriate.
Muhammad Ismail Rahu, Sindh’s Minister of Agriculture, told Dawn that fresh onion and tomato crops would soon be on the market. “In the province, there are ample supplies of wheat available. We do not expect any disturbance to the food crop supply and expect relative market stability in the time ahead. No, we have not yet been contacted for district-wise crop production details by the federal government,” he said over the phone.
Affordability, not supply, is the greatest challenge to food sustainability. If store shelves are overflowing with supplies, what does it matter? “It must also be affordable for those on the lowest rung to meet the nutritional needs of the poor,” commented a watcher.