Poverty-Hunger Nexus and Food Security in Pakistan


Hunger is the by-product of acute poverty

“Our world is one of terrible contradictions. Plenty of food, but one billion people go hungry. Lavish lifestyles for a few, but poverty for too many others. Huge advances in medicine while mothers die every day in childbirth, and children die every day from drinking dirty water. Billions spent on weapons to kill people instead of keeping them safe.” — Ban Ki-moon


Man is a unique creation of God; he is not only a spiritual being but does also have a biological existence. Human life is governed by different kinds of motives; hunger being one of them. The very first need of man is to survive, and satisfy his basic needs like food and shelter; in fact, the former depends on the latter. Food consumption levels and poverty are directly related. Families having sufficient financial resources to buy food hardly face hunger while poor families not only suffer from this malaise but are also the ones who are most at risk in the times of food shortages and famines. The problem of food security in Pakistan has aggravated due to the long, unending neglect on the part of policymakers. The country has all the resources which, if managed judiciously, can help produce agro commodities not only sufficient for domestic consumption but also a lot to be exported later. It is time agricultural sector was given its due.

What is food security?

“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life:” (World Food Summit, 1996.)

What are the causes?

Food insecurity is the consequence of inadequate consumption of nutritious food, considering the physiological utilization of food by the body as being within the domain of nutrition and health.

Malnourishment also leads to poor health hence individuals fail to provide for their families. lf left unaddressed, hunger sets in motion an array of outcomes that perpetuate malnutrition, reduce women’s  ability to bear healthy children, and erode children’s ability to lead productive, healthy and happy lives. This truncation of human development undermines a country’s potential for economic development for generations to come. Adequate nutrition is a basic right as Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) relates to “ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition with the objective to promote sustainable agriculture.”

Hunger-poverty nexus

Hunger is the by-product of acute poverty which is humankind’s worst enemy. Poverty and hunger are the anathema for the whole world but the third world countries are among the most affected. Poverty is one of the primary drivers of hunger in Pakistan. As the “World Development Indicators (WDI) 2015” of the World Bank showed, over 50 percent of people in Pakistan live below the poverty line. Only by wiping out poverty, the issue of hunger can be tackled. But, we also need to understand what Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate, says: “Poverty can be exacerbated by problems in the production side partly because of food supply falling behind food demand tends to raise food prices, which can make many families much poorer, given their incomes.”
Poverty in Pakistan: some facts & figures

1. Multidimensional Poverty Index

It is important to mention here that nearly four out of 10 Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty as 38.8 percent of the population of Pakistan is poor, according to the MPI. The average intensity of deprivation is 50.9 percent. Multidimensionality in urban areas is significantly lower than that in rural areas—9.4 percent and 54.6 percent, respectively.

2. UNDP Report

According to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report titled ‘Development Advocate Pakistan’, the problem of 22 families controlling 66 percent of Pakistan’s industrial assets due to rising inequality remains relevant today in a country where the richest 20 percent consume seven times more than the poorest 20 percent. Moreover, inequality has grown even though consumption-based poverty has dropped from 57.9 percent to 29.5 percent between 1998-99 and 2013-14, and multidimensional poverty, which includes health, education and living standards, has fallen from 55.2 percent to 38.8 percent between 2004-05 and 2014-15.

These inequality trends are, in fact, detrimental to the prospects of eliminating hunger from Pakistan. If increased disparities still prevail and there is minimal investment in public services, then it is hard to imagine how the government will even come close to its target of eliminating hunger and ensuring access to adequate nourishment for all by 2030.

3. Global Food Security Index

On the Global Food Security Index 2016, Pakistan has been ranked 78th, out of 113 countries, with a score of 47.8. Pakistan is an agrarian economy and agriculture is its second largest sector, accounting for over 21 percent of the national GDP. It also is by far the largest employer, taking up 45 percent of the country’s total labour force. Nearly 62 percent of the country’s population resides in rural areas, and is directly or indirectly associated with agriculture. In spite of being productive in the farming sector, Pakistan still faces the threat of food insecurity.

4. World Food Programme Report

The World Food Programme states that at least 43 percent of Pakistan’s population is food insecure, with 18 percent facing a severe food shortage that most affects women and children. Around 15 percent of children in this country face acute malnourishment, while 43 percent face stunted growth, with the highest numbers in Sindh, Balochistan and Fata. It further explains that six people out of ten in Pakistan are food insecure. The food insecurity is the major reason of increasing hunger in Pakistan, whereas food production is sufficient to feed the entire population of the state.

It is not the case that Pakistan cannot produce enough food; it definitely can afford to provide adequate nutrition for all citizens but it is all about asymmetric income and wealth distribution which, in turn, results in iniquitous access to food. Overall economic deprivation is the reason for a certain percentage of people with poor nourishment in Pakistan.

Economic deprivation leads to poor nourishment. Wealthier segments of society have access to better quality, privately-provided social services whereas the underprivileged and vulnerable rely on the state’s provision of public services. So, even if the ‘poor’ families—from low-to-middle income segments—have an income above a minimum threshold, they still have access only to contaminated drinking water, limited access to quality liquid and solid waste management services, and no decent healthcare services.

5. Global Hunger Index 2016

According to the Global Hunger Index 2016, out of 118 developing countries, Pakistan stands at 107 with the score of 33.4—India and Bangladesh scored 28.5 and 27.1 respectively, better than Pakistan. The study suggests that undernourished population in Pakistan is 22 percent, and 8.1 percent below5 children die due to malnourishment.

6. Food and Agriculture Organisation

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that 37.5 million people in Pakistan are not adequately nourished. To add, an estimated 45 percent of deaths in children under the age of five are caused by poor nutrition. If pregnant and lactating women are malnourished and if children do not get adequate nutrition in the first few years of their life, mental and physical deficiencies become endemic.

How to improve the situation?

The blame for most of Pakistan’s problems is easily put on other states or some ‘invisible hand’ but surely, there are certain things that are within our control. It is time that the entire leadership and the media gave priority to these haunting problems.

1. Stopping Food Wastage

Around 40 percent of food produced is wasted everyday with most food wastage at weddings and buffets. Thousands can be gathered in this country for political sloganeering but never to protest for better healthcare, education or against class inequality. If this wastage is stopped, we will have sufficient food for our population.

2. Adapting to Climate Change

Climate is changing; food and agriculture must too. Climate change is even half as disruptive as predicted, and then ensuring adequate nutrition will become more elusive. Climatic and environmental changes are going to play havoc with future agricultural output. Hence, reorienting policies to include greater social sector investment in health, education, water, sanitation, employment and income guarantees, and food and nutrition programmes in schools are required urgently.

3. Promoting Agriculture

The agriculture sector has not gained the desired level of investment, technology impetus and patronage of the government that the industrial sector has enjoyed over the past many years. Relatively weak aggregate performance of the crops, in the face of the strong international prices, indicates not only the sector’s vulnerability to vagaries of nature but also the urgent need to enact reforms targeting distortion in the incentive structure for farmers, and the substantial wastage due to inadequate infrastructure.

4. Incentivizing Agricultural Sector

Fixation of support prices for cash crops, though announced belatedly, has remained short of expectations of the farmers with the result that they have remained somewhat reluctant to opt for any initiatives to produce surplus cash crops. The difference between support/market price and cost of production has remained at a bare minimum over the years to the disadvantage of farmers and the agricultural sector. In addition, food inflation is now controlling the overall inflation in the country. In such a situation the only option for the government is to give due priority to the agricultural sector and provide sufficient incentives to the farmers to produce more agro commodities.

5. Implementing “Pakistan Vision 2025”

“Pakistan Vision 2025” envisages seven priority areas of action termed as “Pillars” and the Pillar IV is titled “Water, Energy and Food Security”. It envisages vision and road map for future growth and development of food and agriculture sectors along with allied subsectors. The Vision seeks a Pakistan where “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. It envisages food security in the context of the entire supply-chain from production, processing, storage and distribution to consumption. Hence the implementation of this vision in letter and spirit is the key to overcome the problem of food insecurity.


There is a strong, direct relationship between agricultural productivity and poverty and hunger. Three-quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas with their principal source of income being the agriculture. With a large chunk of Pakistan’s population undernourished and hungry, food insecurity is assuming greater urgency. We simply cannot afford to delay resolution of this issue. Pakistan is fortunate to have a vast fertile land and an effective irrigation system. We are blessed with four seasons and our farmers are hard working. All we need is good network of transportation of farm products from field to storage. We should also add value to our items and improve packaging for exports.

Therefore, improvements in agricultural productivity aimed at small-scale farmers will benefit the rural poor first. Increased agricultural productivity enables farmers to grow more that translates into better diets and, under market conditions that offer a level playing field, into higher farm incomes. With more money, farmers are more likely to diversify production and grow higher value crops, benefiting not their selves but the economy as a whole.

The writer is currently serving as Veterinary Officer in Government of the Punjab.

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