Food security risks in
Ahmad Fraz Khan
June 20, 2011: PAKISTAN may soon be the only country that
would not have any federal agency to deal with food security
issues, unlike other states in the world.
Under the 18th Amendment, the Ministry of Food and
Agriculture (Minfa) is being dissolved, its functions
transferred to the provinces. Whether federating units are
ready, or even have the capacity, to perform the Minfa
functions, is entirely a different debate.
The Implementation Committee has set a date of June 24 for
devolution of Minfa functions to the provinces, ignoring
agricultural ground realities in the country.
Pakistan is a federation of now five units if
Gilgit-Baltistan is taken as the fifth province. Of these
five units, only Punjab produces farm surpluses. Sindh
hardly breaks even. The other three provinces face gross
deficits on almost all essential food items and have to
depend upon intra-provincial imports to meet even basic
Punjab and Sindh have a track record of placing
un-constitutional restrictions on wheat (a national staple)
movement, squeezing supply to other federating units.
On every occasion, the federal government intervened to set
things right. In such circumstances, can the only bargaining
agent (the Minfa), be taken out of national picture and
leave provinces in-charge of their agricultural produce and
trade? Answers to this question must be found before
completing the devolution exercise.
The second biggest question mark hanging over the exercise
is the planning part. For the last six decades, the Ministry
of Food and Agriculture has been planning (firming up
national requirements) food security for the country and
telling provinces to meet the targets set by it. Who will
replace the Minfa for its painting of national food picture,
plan for it and target setting for provinces.
As executed in Pakistan, ensuring food security policy
entailed three-aspects â first one is the ensuring food
availability, second is keeping it financially affordability
for all the people all the time and third is ensuring
people`s accessibility to food. All three functions have so
far been performed by the federal government through Minfa.
Availability depends on ensuring production â calculate
national requirement, divide them among the provinces and
fix their targets. The other part of this planning was how
to ensure these targets were met.
In order to do that, the federation, which has exclusive
right to order imports of inputs, also ensures smooth
supplies of inputs â seeds, pesticides and fertilisers.
In the absence of Minfa, who is going to perform all these
functions? The provinces can certainly plan for themselves
but the question is who would do it for other three
federating units? Even if provinces do plan for national
requirements, who would ensure smooth supply of inputs?
Would they now directly be importing inputs, and exporting
surpluses? If that is going to be the situation, the federal
government should have clarified by now. If provinces are
allowed to deal with foreign markets and countries, what
kind of effects it would have on national market. Pakistan
needs to calculate all this before sprinting down the road
constructed by the 18th Amendment.
If production suffers, affordability (price factor) would be
even harder to maintain, especially if the federation
abdicates its responsibility. A subsidiary of the Minfa had
been calculating the cost of production, and accordingly
fixes prices of essential commodities. In the absence of the
Minfa planning, prices would inevitably, but wrongly
(because the federal fiscal and monitory policies also
directly hit the prices) be read in the provincial context.
Given the wretchedness of poverty in the country, it would
be politically explosive especially if one federating unit,
or its farmers, is seen making unreasonable profit at the
cost of other federal units and people.
Here again, the Punjab has regularly been blocking wheat and
flour supplies to others saying that it subsidises both and
must not be forced to feed other units. Each time, the
federation intervenes to set things right. Without national
planning, any federating unit can claim that it did not
produce much and demand-supply equation has pushed the price
Where will the federation be standing if that regularly
emerges to be the case? If provinces have to plan and
produce for themselves, who will stop them from exploiting
the situation to their advantage, and do it at the cost of
Both these aspects would largely determine the third one
i.e. accessibility â a matter of supply and price. If the
planning part is missing and prices fluctuate, accessibility
would naturally be compromised. Agriculture in the country
is archaic, and needs meticulous planning both at the
federal and provincial level to ensure accessibility for the
people. It is not to suggest that things should be reversed,
but only to maintain that all these question marks are
national in nature, and must be dealt with before moving
forward with the 18th Amendment.
Courtesy: The DAWN