Nature has awakened to the years long mistreatment of man. The Covid-19 pandemic is one of those blows back of the nature which has threatened the whole humanity. The pandemic threw man into a vicious cycle of multiple challenges like, health crisis, economic recession, and social disruption. However, above all this, the simmering issue of ensuring an uninterrupted supply of food, is the most unattended one. At the outbreak of the pandemic, it was observed that after health, ensuring a steady supply of eatables and averting any food shortage crisis was the most imminent challenge for all the governments. This clearly hinted at the importance of food defense and food fortification especially in these times where normal life had paralyzed. Luckily, Pakistan is not among the countries which have hit hard by the pandemic; however, working on the food defense and controlling the spiraling prices of the daily commodities have rung alarm bells for the government of Imran Khan.
It is fortunate that since March 2020, when the covid-19 was declared a global pandemic, Pakistan has been doing well in all the sectors like, averting any health crisis, economic recession, and disruption in food supply. However, the recent food shortage in Pakistan was not triggered by the Pandemic, but it was exacerbated by it. The shortage in food security was mainly due to the use of primitive methods in dealings with agricultural yields, their transportation and storage, the guesstimates-based data regarding supply and demand, added by the administrative and monitoring failures which resulted in hoarding. In addition to this, the change in climate which has been affecting our crops and their yields, served as like adding fuel to the fire. It is welcoming to note that the government has responded to this need and established a food security dashboard at the PM office, which will ensure data and statistics-based predictions regarding trends in supply, demands and calculation for procurements. Realizing this need the Chinese govt has also appointed an agricultural commissioner at their embassy in Pakistan, which will collaborate with Pakistan in agriculture advancement and ensuring food security under the banner of the second phase of the CPEC.
It has been observed that our farmers are getting old, and the new generation does not take interest in farming. In response to this problem, there is a dire need to make agriculture a lucrative sector income and employment for the youth. In this regarding incentivizing the agro-economy is the need of hour. In relation to this, we should also work on updating our labs and skills to cope up with the emerging challenges of unusual rains, droughts, and the locust attack. The food safety authorities in the provinces, should also include regulations and provision regarding food security to control the wastage of large sum of food due to our wrong dietary practices. Moreover, along with food safety and security, we also need to work on the nutritional value of the foods. The growing trend of adulteration and unhygienic food in the country is one of the major reasons of the stunted growth of our infants. As it is a broader theme, that is why a multi-institutional and multi-sectoral approach both in terms of policy making and implementation is needed to counter these multi-faceted issues. Furthermore, in this age of 5th generation warfare where human security is directly linked with food security, the inclusion of food defense as a sub-section of the national defense and security, has become inevitable.
Food defense is important because on one hand, there are issues in economic access to the food which results in mal-nutrition and stunted growth; while on the other hand, owing to dietary disinformation, nutritional imbalances and unequal distribution of food availability, there is obesity problems in our children. Another related problem in Pakistan is that almost 70% health facilities are private which are unregulated. This needs a comprehensive plan not only to regulate them but also to align them with the public sector health infrastructure. Among all this the mother-child facilities are of utmost importance, which need to be dealt on priority. So, we need not only innovation in agriculture, improvement in health facilities infrastructure but also to adopt a healthy lifestyle with a major behavioral change.
It is very unfortunate that almost all nutrition indicators are very poor in children and women in Pakistan; however, still we are spending the lowest per capita of our GDP on health in the region. There is no panacea to this but abide the government to take the expenditure on health up to 5% of the GDP and expand the universal health protection by Public-Private partnership, which will increase its outreach. There is also a need to align the health, food, and nutrition systems for a better and compressive approach. Moreover, creating small medical centers, and community-based health and nutrition centers especially in the rural areas and inculcating a healthy lifestyle and balanced dietary practices through public campaigning can make us to realize this dream. In a nutshell, food defense and food fortification can rightly be improved with community engagement and improving our dietary and hygienic behavior.