How to achieve food security?
security has been a global concern. At times, the world was
simply short of food supplies. The infamous Bengal famine
was not a case of shortage but that of greed and
mismanagement. This country had seen food rationing during
1960s.The situation changed after green revolution and
thereafter it remained a problem of ‘reach’.
Lately, the food security has emerged as a complex
phenomenon. There is pressure on grains due to competition
with oil crops including those for edible oils as in
Pakistan and bio-fuels from corn and mustard oils in the
West. The demand for animal and plant protein has increased
which causes cropping competition to grain crops by fodders
and edible legumes.The land and water resources are stressed
and population keeps growing.
The climate change has started to make its impact. The
cropping patterns needs readjustment to cope with the
change. Severe droughts in Australia, a major wheat supplier
of the world, have restricted global trading in grains. The
war risks to some countries have pressured them to build
Wronged estimates and mismanagement are also part of the
problem. Escalations in the cost of production have
restricted the ability of farmers in developing countries to
make seasonal investments leading to stagnant and declining
yields. In case of wheat, we are also faced with new disease
threats. Recent rains and hail storms in Punjab have damaged
the standing crop. The yield expectations from the current
crop are not likely to beat the last years’ crop.
A part of the problem has roots in lack of sufficient
investment in research and development (R&D) for
agriculture. There is only one major variety (cultivar) of
wheat which has dominated the production scene since 1991
and that has become susceptible to rust disease. Delay in
replacement of one variety of wheat is partly to blame for
The terms of trade have also discouraged agricultural
growth. While we can continue making long-term plans and
justify investment in the agriculture sector, it is an
emergency situation where one should act to minimise ‘shock’
by reducing the known/preventable losses.
Wheat harvesting in Sindh is almost over and it should be in
full swing in Punjab which produces the bulk of the crop.
Harvest and post-harvest losses of wheat and other grains
range between 15 and 18 per cent, enough to match the
expected import, provided the said losses are prevented.
An empirical study undertaken at the University of
Agriculture, Faisalabad (UAF), is summarised in the
following tables. Wheat and rice and to some extent maize
have mutuality. To a certain extent, surplus in one case can
compensate the shortage of other grains. This article
focuses on wheat alone. In case of wheat, the immediate
concern should be to attend the harvest operations and then
plan for the rest of post-harvest and marketing chain.
To manage preventable losses in harvesting and post-harvest
activities is a challenge. If managed properly, every
reduction in losses will be a corresponding gain.
Aggressive and effective wheat procurement by the government
is not likely to work due to the limitation of procurement
price. The market remains wide open to the market forces and
to unscrupulous elements. The government can still help the
farmers by proper weighing and ensuring fair and timely
payment in an open market.
Storage is an important factor in the marketing of wheat.
The storage base has to be evenly spread at farmers, traders
and flour miller’s level. The urban consumers have left the
practice of storing wheat at household level due to non-
availability of local milling facilities (chakkis), shifting
more reliance on wheat flour supplied in the open market.
A campaign may be launched to revive the old practice of
buying and storing wheat at household level. The financial
support should also be provided for the promotion of local
milling facilities. In the long run farmers could be
facilitated (credit on commodity) to store their crop as
much as they can in order to fetch high prices of their
produce before next harvest.
The storage of wheat needs to be identified from hoarding.
The government should enhance its storage capacity by hiring
private storages and keep record of wheat storage in the
private sector. Storage limits be imposed. Globally, there
are 25 million tons of wheat reserves against the required
quantity of 60 million tons, a point to note and demands the
sealing of borders to stop smuggling. As a follow up, there
should be continuous monitoring and audit of movement of
wheat from the government and private storage to the flour
mills and from the flour mills to the consumer. Specific
measures are needed to be taken which include:
Inter- and intra-province controlled movement of wheat as
per government policy through out the year.
Wheat buyers/traders be registered who declare the purchase
and stock position on daily basis.
Reliable estimates of wheat production and consumption for
the year 2008-09 are needed badly to avoid the repeat of
last year. The obvious gap has to be met by timely
arrangements for wheat import.
It is reported that the purchasing power of the poor has
declined by 50 per cent, thanks to inflation. The poor
people spend up to 75 per cent or more of their income on
food items. Price of wheat has quadrupled in the
international market. The wheat price in Pakistan is still
fairly low. Measures should be taken to increase the
purchase power of the poor against high wheat prices (like
food coupon, ration cards etc.)
The wet wheat harvest season is alarming. That can cause a
range of problems.
The future: Input prices have been increasing
disproportionate to the output prices. Terms of trade are
against agriculture. We should make them favourable for
agriculture to ensure food security. The government should
put a halt on the prices of input and make sure that farmers
get right price for the produce. Rigorous campaign and
monitoring of wheat cultivation should be launched, to
ensure sufficient acreage under wheat in the next crop
If there is one item to be fixed, that should be the
availability of quality seed and other inputs to the farmer
at right price and at the right time. Soil and water need
attention as a next immediate step.
The government maintains a buffer stock of around 0.5
million tons. Changing consumption pattern and increased
demand calls for substantial increase in this buffer stock
to the tune of around two million tons for ensuring the food
security. Futures market concept can be introduced on
As a long-term policy, investment in research and education
is a must to have new knowledge and technology for science
based agriculture. The monoculture of one wheat variety was
mentioned earlier. The emergence of new wheat pests (aphids
and jassids) deserves a closer look.
There should be short training courses on the post-harvest
grain management for the in-service manpower of the food
department. There is also room for developing basic training
courses for new entrants of the food handling agencies,
realising the fact that grain handling at the
post-production stage is a technical job. The UAF has the
capacity to offer these services.
In summary, urgent attention is needed to manage the
preventable losses during harvesting and afterwards. That
should be followed by a strict surveillance of marketing
channels. The durable solution lies in R&D investments.
There is a direct linkage between food security, poverty and
rural development. Meticulous investment in agriculture will
have mitigating effects on rural and urban poor, resulting
in socio-economic stability and large political dividends
for the government.
The writer is the Vice-Chancellor, University of
Courtesy: Business Recorder