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IPRI Review: Food Security in Pakistan

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The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. Generally, the notion of food security is defined as comprising together physical and economic access to food. [1]

According to the definition given at the World Food Summit of 1996, food security is built on three pillars:

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

The world population is estimated to rise to 9 billion people by 2050 whereas food producing resources such as water and agriculture land is depleting at alarming rates. Access to food for world population is a daunting task for the world community and thus food security has become a central challenge in today’s world. According to the, “Global food security index 2013”, more than 870m people globally do not have a secure source of food. The recent upsurge in world food prices has driven over 110 million more people into poverty. Over the next decade, food prices are anticipated to rise by another 30-50%.

The situation is worse in developing countries in Africa and South Asia. Pakistan has been placed at 75th position amongst the 105 countries ranked by the new Global Food Security Index (GFSI) 2012. Pakistan’s low ranking on GFSI in spite of rise in agriculture output — especially of wheat and rice — in the recent years is a reminder of the want of efforts to fight increasing hunger in the country.


The objective of the study is to determine the causes of food insecurity in Pakistan and propose recommendations for making Pakistan a food secure country.


Despite sufficient national food production to meet the needs of Pakistan’s 180 million people, the state of food security has been deteriorating.  The number of food insecure individuals in is on a rise. According to the World Food Program (WFP), almost half of Pakistan’s population was food insecure in the year 2010. These numbers swelled after the 2010 unprecedented floods that submerged almost one-fifth of the country’s total landmass.

Pakistan is an agricultural country and self-sufficient in terms of producing major crops for its population. In a stark contrast to this, reports suggest that more than 90 million people in Pakistan are food insecure and the number may increase in the coming years. The problem of food crisis has led many to believe that issues of food security are not merely food production issues but food availability issues as well. The “Food Insecurity in Pakistan 2009” report suggests that,

“while rest of the world faced the three “F” (food, fiscal, fuel) crisis, Pakistan faced (and still continues to face) the six “F” crises—food, fuel, fiscal, functional democracy, frontier (meaning the war on terrorism, which spills across the frontier dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan and into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan), and fragility of climate. The six “Fs” have a multiplier effect on each other, and it seems extremely difficult to find a solution to any single crisis without addressing the rest of them. The cumulative effect of the six “F” crises is threatening the livelihoods and food security of poor segments of the society. Here it is pertinent to mention that agriculture is still the major asset of livelihoods and absorbs 44.7 percent of the country’s total labor force. The agriculture sector is the mainstay of the rural economy and contributes 21.8 percent to the GDP.”[2]

Escalating food prices, floods, economic slowdown, poverty, armed conflicts, terrorism, energy crisis, and political instability are some of the major factors blamed for rising number of hungry people in the country by both food security experts and international agencies.

Food Security Image


Rising food prices; food prices have surged in Pakistan specifically because of natural calamities such as floods and earthquakes, rising fuel prices, energy crisis and high tariffs. The production cost of cereals has also surged because of rising price of fertilizers and seeds. Electricity and gas shortage has compelled the increase in overall food item prices.

High and volatile food prices in Pakistan have forced nearly 120 million of the total population to spend 50 to 70% of their income on food. The most common managing strategy for rising food prices in both urban as well as rural areas is to be dependent on less favoured and less expensive food. The second most implemented strategy is limiting the size of meals. Negative coping strategies, including reducing expenditures on health and education lead to chronic food insecurity.

Floods; Pakistan suffered from 21 major floods between 1950 and 2011 — almost one flood every three years. These floods killed a total of 8,887 people, damaged or destroyed 109,822 villages, and caused economic losses amounting to $19bn. On an average, the annual flood damage from 1960 to 2011 was about one per cent of the mean annual GDP.

The devastating 2010 flood caused the highest damage in terms of economic cost of about $10bn. The extent of the destruction caused by the 2010 floods is hard to comprehend. The floods impacted seventy-eight districts, resulting in the deaths of over 1980 with at least another 2946 injured. In the areas receiving flood-waters 70% of the roads and bridges were swept away. More than 10,000 schools and 500 hospitals were destroyed or damaged, as were about 1.6 million homes.

Storage incapability; Wheat production in Pakistan during 2013-2014 is estimated at 24 million tons and its consumption at 23.4 million tons, but the government is importing wheat because of storage incapability. Grain storage is primarily in the public sector and is the responsibility of Pakistan Agricultural Storage and Services Corporation (Passco) as well as four provincial food departments. Data on agricultural storage capacity is imprecise, but according to Passco total wheat storage capacity in the public sector is estimated at about 5.2 million tons, of which 1.3 million tons is with Passco while 2.45 million tons with the Punjab Food Department, 0.71 million tons with the Sindh Food Department, 0.16 million tons with the NWFP and the remaining with the Balochistan Food Department.

The self-sufficiency in food grain and suitable provisions for its storage are interlinked with food security. Pakistan is faced with grain storage problems at large scale throughout the country. Food grain storage is sensitive problem for the farmers, grain merchants and the Government for safe storage under hygienic conditions. The increase in production of major commodities like wheat, rice, cotton and oilseeds has emerged with intense distribution and retention for long period. The existing storage facilities are inadequate to cater for large increase in production. Pakistan in spite of producing bumper crops of wheat and rice has to import the commodity because of inadequate storage facilities.

Water shortage; Water scarcity is self-evidently one of the key factors that will limit food production. This is especially the case in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where malnutrition and food insecurity are already widespread. In these areas, the livelihoods and well-being of poor communities are critically dependent on their farm produce.

Pakistan did not include large dams in its priority agenda in the past. However, recent food, water and energy crises have demonstrated the need for large reservoirs, and the government is considering building large reservoirs. 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.


  • Food security discourse adopted by the government must incorporate the entire food value chain, from ‘production to plate’. The “Agriculture and Food Security Policy” announced by the present government must be implemented in letter and spirit.
  • Effective responses to food insecurity will hinge on simultaneously improving livelihoods and agricultural productivity, reducing waste and the demand for resource-intensive food, and improved governance in the food system.
  • Local-level attempts to empower people and to create sustainable rural livelihoods will be important for future success.
  • Continuous education for farmers through mass media, short courses, and exchange programmes among other South Asian states should be initiated.
  • Agricultural Universities may provide scholarships to students doing research on agriculture increase. Research on high value crops, livestock, fisheries, forest conservation, post-harvest handling, irrigation water management and management of soil problems need to be given much higher priority.
  • The efficient and effective use of irrigation water is most critical to the future of Pakistan. It is also necessary that the government should plan for the future needs, taking into account agricultural, domestic, and industrial demand of the future and impact on the environment. There is pressing requirement for the government to warrant adequate and timely availability of water for farming to enhance food production and availability.
  • The productivity of the food crops can be substantially enhanced through increased use of quality seed. Proper use of organic and inorganic fertilizers is also critical for maintaining soil fertility to enhance agriculture productivity. Fertilizers should be used according to the site-specific requirements of crops. The use of organic and inorganic fertilizer needs to be encouraged in an integrated manner.
  • Indian model of food production and farming should be implemented, where government provides substantial subsidies on electricity and fertilizers.


Pakistan is challenged with critical crisis of economy, governance and security to achieve long-term development. The protracted insurgency and conflict in the border areas and security challenges all over the country is a reality that has affected all facets of life in Pakistan and obstructs development. A series of improvements in governance are required to unleash Pakistan’s growth potential. Food Security in an otherwise food self-sufficient country calls for steps to make Pakistan a fully food secure country. Pakistan can be turned into a food secure country if the government makes it the top priority because it is often said that, “food insecurity anywhere, threatens peace everywhere.”

[1] Rome Declaration on World Food Security, available at;

[2] Food Insecurity in Pakistan 2009, available at

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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