The UN Food Systems Summit – Voices from around the Globe - Pakistan

Pakistan, 28 August 2021 - 

Pakistan will take part in historic United Nations Food Systems Summit.

In September this year, the UN Secretary General will convene the first ever UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), a historic moment for centring food in many critical issues facing people all over our planet today: from hunger and malnutrition; to environment and nature; to livelihoods and human rights; to resilience to shocks and stresses like Covid 19 and the climate emergency. 

Pakistan is a lower-middle-income country with a population of more than 215 million, and the 5th most-populous country in the world. At the current growth rate of 1.8%, its population is expected to increase to around 255 million by 2030. Pakistan has one of the world’s highest rates of malnutrition among women and children.

According to the National Nutrition Survey (2018), 40% children under five years of age are stunted, 18% are wasted while 54% are anaemic.

Poor diet and lack of dietary diversity attributed to poverty, unaffordability, food production environment and consumption habits are key contributors to poor nutrition. More than two-third of households (68%) are unable to afford recommended nutritious diets, while 20% of Pakistani households experience severe food insecurity (FIES). Pakistan also faces local impacts of our globally shifting climate, including rising monsoon variability and extreme weather events, Himalayan glaciers receding to impact the Indus River system, and more.

Boy in pakistan wearing colordul shirt and smiling

Poor diet and lack of dietary diversity attributed to poverty, unaffordability, food production environment and consumption habits are key contributors to poor nutrition. © Unsplash / karanbathia9

As the milestone of the UNFSS pre-summit has passed at the end of July, we reflect on Pakistan’s engagement so far.

At the national level, Pakistan joins over 125 countries that have embarked on coordinating efforts for inclusive, multistakeholder Food Systems Summit Dialogues to engage around the vision of the ‘people’s summit’. All over the world, countries have been holding – and in some cases continue to hold – national and sub-national dialogues to surface and prioritise needs and actions. These convenings bring stakeholders from different areas of public sector, national and subnational, representing ministries like agriculture, food, health, and environment together with private sector players like food industry bodies or small and medium-sized enterprises; together with UN agency representatives from the likes of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP); together with academics and representatives from international and national Non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations (NGOs and CSOs);  and finally and very crucially, together with representatives of stakeholders from groups with voices that too often go unheard – women’s groups, consumer groups, young people, indigenous people, and farmer organisations. 

Pakistan’s UNFSS Dialogues: Raising awareness, connecting stakeholders, prioritising actions 

Pakistan, led by the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) at the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (NFSR) has been engaging from early 2021 across all five UNFSS Action Tracks. The Ministry was supported by teams from allied Departments, Research and Development institutions in Federal and Provincial Governments, and development partners including FAO, IFAD, WFP, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). 

Pakistan has convened a number of national dialogues and high level meetings, as well as sub-national dialogues in each of its four provinces. In addition, independent dialogues have been held to engage stakeholders further or explore particular areas of interest such as food security and sustainable livelihoods or the role of cooperatives and farmer organisations. 

A particularly promising development here has been the renewed interest in multistakeholder collaboration to develop and elaborate a National Action Plan on Food Systems Transformation, expected to have a five to ten-year horizon. While this has been planned for some time, Pakistan’s preparations for the UNFSS have brought it back into focus as a key priority.

Emerging priorities for Pakistan

Pakistan is still in the process of clustering and prioritising actions and solutions based on national and provincial dialogues that have attracted broad participation from local and national stakeholders. Some emerging priority areas evident in the dialogues that have been held however include:

  • Indigenous crop productivity in marginal areas
  • Consumer access to diversified food in marginal areas, particularly farming communities
  • Improving the limited role of women in farming livelihoods and related entrepreneurship
  • Improving the limited availability of fruits and vegetables in marginal areas
  • Food fortification and food safety
  • Reducing food loss and waste
  • Boosting capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to improve food safety and tackling food safety issues causing foodborne diseases
  • Improving the affordability of nutritious foods; and
  • Improving food systems data and planning 

Pakistan at the UNFSS Pre-summit

On the occasion of the UNFSS Pre-summit convened in Rome and virtually with participants from all over the globe, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (NFSR), Honourable Minister Syed Fakhar Imam said:
“Pakistan has established the UNFSS Secretariat at PARC and diverse range of experts engaged for developing technical working papers on all the five Action Tracks (ATs). As per our policy directions set under "National Food Security Policy 2018", "Agriculture Transformation Plan 2021" and "Pakistan Multi-sectoral Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan 2018-2025", achieving nutritional food security for its population is a high priority on Pakistan’s development agenda."

He also went on to note: "Our Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team are committed towards achieving zero hunger for the Pakistani population and determined to join ‘The Coalition of Action for Achieving Zero Hunger’ under this UN Food System Summit initiative."

Pakistan has heeded the call to work towards positive food system transformation and GAIN Pakistan remains committed to working to support country engagement with the UNFSS and food systems transformative processes. We draw hope and inspiration from the strong will from many different stakeholder groups to work together on this large and important shared agenda.