Achieving food security


A Pakistani farmer harvests wheat in a field on the outskirts of Lahore. — AFP/File
A Pakistani farmer harvests wheat in a field on the outskirts of Lahore. — AFP/File

The COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Actions represents a significant milestone in global climate negotiations.

This declaration acknowledges the interconnection between climate change and food security, and underscores the urgency of addressing food insecurity in the face of climate change, highlighting the importance of collective action and international cooperation to safeguard global food security.

As per international human rights law, every individual has the right to adequate food and the fundamental right to be free from hunger. This is referred to as ‘the right to food’. The right to adequate food encompasses sufficient quantity, quality, and cultural acceptability. So, all states have the obligation to respect, protect, promote, facilitate, and provide their citizens’ right to food.

Food security, being a global priority agenda, is reflected in various commitments, including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. Global agreements such as the Rome Declaration on World Food Security (1996) and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Right to Food (2004) emphasize the significance of tackling food insecurity. Achieving food security is also essential for realizing multiple SDGs, including those related to health, poverty reduction, education, and environmental sustainability.

During the current fragile era, the issue of food security has become the most pressing concern, particularly in developing countries like Pakistan, with its severe impacts on children and women. Both demographics are disproportionately affected by food insecurity.

Malnutrition in children can lead to developmental issues and health problems, such as stunted growth and weakened immune systems. For women, especially pregnant and lactating mothers, inadequate nutrition can have severe health implications. Food insecurity frequently compels children, especially girls, to drop out of school to assist in household chores or work.

The latest acute malnutrition (AMN) analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) concludes that 2.14 million children in parts of Pakistan are suffering acute malnutrition, whereas nearly 10.5 million people experienced high levels of acute food insecurity between April 2023 and October 2023. The situation is projected to worsen between November 2023 and January 2024 where 11.8 million people will likely experience high levels of acute food insecurity.

In 2021, according to the United Nations Common Country Analysis (UNCCA), the prevalence of undernourishment in Pakistan was 16.9 per cent, with an estimated 37.2 million people experiencing either undernourishment or food insecurity; about 36.7 per cent of children under the age of five in Pakistan found stunted (10.3 million).

The FAO’s Data in Emergencies Monitoring (DIEM-Monitoring) also provides us with alarming statistics and indicates that overall, half of the households are food insecure. The 2022 floods have further aggravated the situation, posing serious challenges to food security by significantly impacting agricultural productivity, disrupting supply chains, and further escalating the risk of malnutrition.

Statistics indicate that a considerable number of affected people experienced varying degrees of food insecurity across different regions of Pakistan. Among them, children constitute a particularly vulnerable group, with a significant portion suffering from malnutrition and hunger-related issues.

Malnutrition rates among children under five years old remain alarmingly high, contributing to long-term health and developmental consequences. Women, especially pregnant and lactating mothers, and other vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected by food insecurity.

These horrific figures underscore the urgent need for comprehensive strategies and interventions to be formulated to address the daunting national challenge. This includes efforts to improve agricultural productivity, enhance food distribution systems, strengthen social safety nets, and prioritize the nutritional needs of vulnerable populations, particularly children, women and persons with disabilities.

Amidst the grim milieu, the commitments outlined in COP28’s agriculture and food system declarations once again lay the pragmatic way down to achieve sustainable agricultural practices by scaling up adaptation, climate-resilient and sustainable agricultural methods. It puts more emphasis on technological innovation by encouraging the development and dissemination of technologies that enhance food production efficiency while minimizing environmental impact.

It also provides strong recommendations for the development of robust, resilient and sustainable food supply chains. It further signifies the importance of involving local communities, particularly indigenous populations, and empowering women in rural areas by giving them a more significant role in agricultural decisions and practices.

By embracing these recommendations efficiently, Pakistan can alleviate the impacts of climate change on its agricultural sector, which is vital for achieving food security and curbing malnutrition and undernourishment across the country.

In this respect, the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) can play a significant role by facilitating investments in agriculture. This can contribute to the development of a more robust, sustainable, and equitable food system. The apex coordinating body could focus on attracting both domestic and foreign investments to modernize the agricultural sector and develop export-oriented value-added agro-models tailored to specific crop productivity regions.

The complex challenges necessitate comprehensive strategies to tackle the fundamental causes of hunger and malnutrition, while also fostering resilience in vulnerable communities. This places a huge responsibility on the incoming government to intensify efforts to adopt a comprehensive framework for agricultural productivity enhancement, improve food distribution systems, and strengthen social safety nets.

Countrywide complementary interventions are required for promoting programmes such as school feeding, distribution of essential nutrients that include nutrition education, and micronutrient supplementation targeting children and infants.

The present emergency strategies require rapid responses to be embedded to tackle food crises during emergencies by delivering life-saving assistance such as food distribution, therapeutic feeding, and conducting nutrition screening in humanitarian settings. All the interventions must also consider water, sanitation and hygiene as an integrated subject to address malnutrition as a whole.

Engaging and empowering communities, particularly women and youth, to identify and address their food security challenges through participatory approaches is the key to moving ahead. This involves strengthening local capacities, promoting community-led initiatives, and facilitating the establishment of support networks to enhance resilience and mitigate the impact of shocks and stresses on food security.

To achieve the goals, we need robust efforts to be undertaken by policymakers to integrate agriculture and food systems into our climate action and vice versa. Collaboration with international organizations and stakeholders is imperative for effectively implementing and monitoring these policies. Engaging with policymakers, government agencies and other stakeholders, and international organizations can contribute to better policy outcomes, creating an enabling environment for sustainable food systems and improved nutritional status for Pakistan.

The writer is a climate governance expert who works for global development organizations in the fields of research, advisory, policy analysis, and legislative reforms. He tweets/posts @razashafqat


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