Food and nutrition security of Pakistan — SOS call for COP-28

  • Dr Anwaar Ahmed
  • Nov 26, 2023

Pakistan is a semi-industrialized economy with a well-integrated agricultural sector. Agriculture contributes 22.9% to GDP and creates 37.4% jobs, ensuring food security and providing raw materials for industry. Livestock accounts for 62.68% of agriculture and 14.36% of GDP, up 3.78% in 2022-23 from 2.25% last year. Thus, growth in the production of wheat (5.4%), sugarcane (2.8%), and maize (6.9%) more than offset the negative growth of cotton (41.0%) and rice. (21.5%). The total land area of ​​Pakistan is 79.60 million hectares, the cultivated area is 24.16 million hectares, and the forest accounts for 3.92 million hectares, while 8.19 million hectares are arable land and 19.34 million hectares of land. irrigated cropland.

Agriculture contributes 21 percent to the GDP and 60 percent to Pakistan’s exports. Climate warming is predicted to reduce 8-10% agricultural productivity by 2040. Furthermore, the scarcity of water in agriculture may reduce GDP by 4.6 percent, while air pollution could cause an annual loss of 6.5 percent of GDP. Pakistan imports wheat, sugar, cooking oil, beans, cotton, and other food products worth about 10 billion USD. The most recent period from 2007-08 to 2022-23 shows a depressing record of 2.0% on average, well below population growth. Cotton production fell 41% to 4.91 million bales from 8.33 million bales last year. Rice production fell to 7.32 million tons from 9.32 million tons and declined 21.5% per year. Sugarcane production reached 91.11 million tons compared to last year’s production of 88.65 million tons, with a 2.8% increase.

As a developing country, Pakistan confronts harmful economic, agricultural, social, ecological, and demographic problems due to pollution. Pakistan has been categorized most vulnerable among the top ten countries to climate change on the Global Climate Risk Index (GCRI) 2021. Recently it has witnessed loss amounting to US$15.2 billion during the floods of 2022. Crop losses of up to 80 percent in 2018 were observed, as a result of drought in Balochistan leading to migration and widespread food insecurity. Similarly, over 5 million people were affected by drought in Sindh in 2021 which caused losses of over Rs 100 billion.

Climate change is a risk multiplier and compounds the country’s economic fragility and could lead to a potential reduction in annual GDP of 18 to 20 percent by 2050, based on transformational and business-as-usual scenarios. In both scenarios, between 6.5 and 9.0 percent of GDP is projected to decrease due to climate change and its consequences like increased floods, heatwaves, agricultural and livestock yield reduction, infrastructure destruction, labor productivity decline, and health impacts.

Pakistan is targeting to meet the biggest challenge of food security and nutrition of Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger by the end of 2030. The report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has estimated that in Pakistan the prevalence of Undernourishment is up to 20.3% and 40.0 million people are not consuming adequate food. The prevalence of child malnutrition is found at the highest levels in Pakistan. Published research reported that in accordance with the National Nutrition Survey, the statistics of children include underweight – 33%, stunted – nearly 44%, wasted- 15%, anemic – 50%, and iron-deficient- 33%.  In the Global Hunger Index, Pakistan is securing 106th rank in the list of 119 countries. Currently, the poverty rate in Pakistan is up 24.3% which will rise up to 26%. The reasons for the increasing poverty rate could be due to the pandemic coronavirus, changing climatic conditions, etc. The Government of Pakistan adopted a smart lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic to prevent deaths from hunger. However, the key causes for food insecurity in Pakistan are the absence of money sources, increasing population, poor infrastructure, and the absence of strategies to deal with poverty.

In Pakistan, increased temperature, floods, less rainfall, heavy rains, and water scarcity all induced by climate changes are affecting the agricultural system of the country. The country produces major crops yet a notable percentage of the population is living under the poverty line and not having access to healthy or enough food. Ongoing climatic change is worsening the situation of food security in Pakistan. The poverty and unemployment rate in Pakistan have increased from previous years. The government has started initiatives such as billion tree tsunami projects that will assist in tackling climate change as well as create employment opportunities. The inflation rate should be taken into consideration. People should need to change their living style and avoid wasting food.

Climate change impacts crop production by increasing carbon dioxide levels and causing altered weather conditions and seasons. This can lead to increased crop rotation periods and increased output, but it may not be from crops in greater demand, such as rice. Climate change can also destabilize agricultural practices and crop production periods, threatening food availability and local diversity. Climate change can also alter the geographical distribution of marine animals, such as oil sardines, due to increased temperatures in water bodies. Increased frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters can exacerbate food security issues by disrupting crop production, livestock rearing, and trade, leading to premium prices for food and worsening food insecurity. Additionally, natural disasters can create conditions that prevent food transportation, leading to food shortages in affected communities. Climate change also affects the variety of foods with higher nutritional value due to disruptions in trade and crop production. Changes in soil and water nutrient levels can lead to malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies, negatively impacting food utilization and dietary needs. Additionally, climate change may affect food safety, as contaminated water used for crop cultivation may indirectly cause consumers to consume toxic products. Climate-related disasters, such as flooding, can also pollute water sources used for hydration and agricultural purposes.

Flooding can lead to stagnant water in communities, increasing the risk of vector-borne and water-borne diseases. During climate-related disasters, people may not have access to nutritious food, leading to rationing and decreased dietary quality. This threatens food security as food cannot be utilized effectively due to the decline in nutritional value and food safety. Climate change affects food stability due to changing anthropogenic conditions, drying-wetting cycles, and global mean temperatures, affecting livestock rearing and crop production. Technological advances have been used to mitigate climate change effects, but they may exacerbate the issue of food security and climate change.

Food distribution and transportation are also affected by climate change, as it increases the frequency and intensity of climate-related disasters. This affects food supply stability, as food trade is hindered by weather conditions or destroyed access roads. The instability of food supply is felt mainly in developing countries that do not practice stock-piling, as they lack the technical expertise and financial resources to build infrastructure and storage conditions for natural disasters.

The United Nations annual climate change conference, COP, convenes world leaders, ministers, and negotiators to agree on how to address climate change. The COPs, which have been held since COP21, focus on implementing the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit the global average temperature rise to 2°C, adapt to climate change, build resilience, and align finance flows with low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development. COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates, will take place from November 30 to December 12, 2023. The host country appoints a president to lead the talks, who plays a crucial role in consulting with governments and stakeholders. Dr. Sultan al-Jaber, minister of industry and advanced technology for the UAE, will preside over the negotiations. COP decisions are made by consensus, but reaching an agreement can be a challenging and highly charged process due to differing needs and interests.

The Dubai negotiations will focus on adapting and building resilience to climate change impacts and addressing climate change-induced loss and damage. Governments need to agree on the operationalization of the loss and damage fund, which was set up as part of wider loss and damage funding arrangements. A transitional committee is considering these issues. COP28 is expected to adopt a framework for achieving the Paris Agreement’s global goal on adaptation, the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), which aims to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience, and reduce vulnerability to climate change. The Standing Committee on Finance (SCF) is preparing a report on the pledge by developed countries to double adaptation finance from 2019 levels by 2025. This is crucial to ensure developing country trust and engagement in multilateral climate action, as many vulnerable developing countries already face adaptation burdens that outstrip their means to respond. The COP28 presidency is calling on private and public sector stakeholders to commit funding and technology for food systems and agricultural transformation, highlighting that food systems contribute one-third of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Technological solutions will also be in focus, with the UAE and the US collaborating to promote their Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C).

Pakistan, one of the world’s most affected countries by climate change, has been actively working to extract compensation from wealthy nations. In June 2022, floods caused by heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers killed over 1,700 people and caused over $30 billion in damages. Pakistan has led a group of 134 states to push for a Loss and Damage Fund to compensate affected countries. As one of the top five countries affected by climate change, Pakistan’s delegation is expected to discuss ideas for supporting these countries at COP28 in Dubai.

Climate finance is a crucial issue at COPs, as developing countries require financial resources, technology transfer, and capacity-building to reduce emissions, adapt to climate change, and address loss and damage. Governments will continue negotiations on a new climate finance goal at COP28, with a deadline of 2024. Finance will also be prominent in negotiations on the Global Green Tax (G GST) and loss and damage. Discussions on scaling up and delivering climate finance may affect other negotiating areas, potentially unlocking increased action or stalling progress. This was evident at climate negotiations in Bonn in June 2023.

Pakistan has taken several initiatives to address climate change issues. The country has launched several projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting renewable energy sources, and increasing forest cover. The country has set a target of generating 60% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Pakistan has also launched several initiatives such as the Billion Tree Tsunami project which aims to plant one billion trees by 2023. The government has also introduced policies to promote electric vehicles and reduce carbon emissions from the transport sector.

Pakistan’s participation in COP28 can help the country secure funding for climate adaptation and mitigation projects. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to help developing countries finance their climate actions. Pakistan has already received $50 million from GCF for its climate projects. By participating in COP26, Pakistan can secure more funding for its climate projects.

In conclusion, COP-28 is an important conference that aims to address climate change issues. Pakistan’s participation in COP-28 is crucial because it provides an opportunity for the country to raise its voice on climate change issues and advocate for its interests. Pakistan can also learn from other countries’ experiences and best practices in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Pakistan has taken several initiatives to address climate change issues, but more needs to be done to mitigate the effects of climate change.


Dr Anwaar Ahmed

The authors is a sector specialist agriculture, food and nutrition at Ministry of Planning Commission Pakistan

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