Rural to urban migration, conversion of farm land into industrial and housing zones and low level of investment in agriculture sector, especially in small-scale farming, are some of the causes of increasing risks of food insecurity and loss to rural development in the country, said the speakers at a seminar on the World Food Day organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
Speaking on the occasion, the Executive Director of SDPI, Dr. Abid Qayyium Suleri, was of the view that Pakistan is linked to the triangular theme of the World Food Day- Migration, Food Security and Rural Development. Once an agriculture based economy in 1980s, the country is shifting towards a services based economy.
He said that with more people gradually shifting from agriculture to the service sector, a gap at agriculture sector is being created which results in low calorie consumption for a large number of people. He feared that the people in Gilgit Baltistan, Balochistan, FATA and some part of Sindh would face food insecurity.
The Representative of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Pakistan, Mina Dowlatchahi, said that there is a need for appropriate policies and strategies to feed the growing population of cities which is possible only through a strong agriculture sector.
Though a lot of work is being done to improve the levels of nutrition and introduce innovation in agriculture sector, Pakistan’s proposed Food Security Policy, now in the phase of being finalization, needs to address some fundamental questions such as how much Pakistan needs to invest to support small holding farmers and women farmers in terms of provision of credit and input facilities to them so that they grow flood and climate resistant crops.
She said there is also a need to invest in rural development in terms of providing children nutritious food, better schooling and clean drinking water.
A member of the Notational Assembly, Ms Romina Khursheed Alam, said that the respective governments acknowledge that agriculture is back bone of the economy and the trend of rural to urban migration is also a matter of concern for them as this migration impacts the agriculture production and rural population leaving agriculture farming and livestock raring costs in the shape of production of food, while they increase burden on the meager resources of cities.
She was of the view that we can ensure food security of our people by giving priority to rural development and modernization of agriculture so that the people get their livelihood and food at their door step and they do not need to migrate for livelihood or food.
Dr Muhamamd Azeem Khan, Director General National Agriculture Research Council (NARC) said on the policy front, we have been focusing on the goal of achieving self-sufficiency in food and not the rural development, now we have to work on both for achieving the goal of food security and putting a halt to rural to urban migration.
He was of the view that despite low levels of research and development (R&D) funding, Pakistan has been able to produce a number of high yielding varieties of food- rice and wheat. There is a time now that we reallocate and provide more resources for rural development and innovative agriculture methods and techniques to achieve the goal of food security.
Syed Muhammad Nasir Ali Shah, Managing Director Pakistan Oil Seed Development Board said that though Pakistan produce enough staple food, but still the country imports 84% of oil seed which is a main item of Food Security Basket because the domestic production is just 16% which needs to be increased.
If the country increases production of oil seed, it may generate a lot of agricultural activity in the country and provide livelihood to the small farmers and bulk producers as well. This would ensure food security and save foreign exchange.
New sources of plantation and improving agriculture should be identified to increase the aggregate income of rural population and making it financially independent, he added.
Dr. Iqrar Ahmad Khan, former Vice Chancellor, University of Agriculture Faisalabad said that we should focus on developing a policy framework coupled with political ownership at the highest level to prioritize rural and agriculture development to achieve the objectives of food security and appropriate check on the rural urban movement. Moreover, public investment needed to be enhanced in rural development.