Food Insecurity in Gilgit-Baltistan

By Wasim Sajjad

Amidst the political and economic turmoil in Pakistan, achieving food security in the rural mountain areas is becoming a great challenge.

Food insecurity is one of the growing issues faced by populations, particularly in developing countries. It is a multifaceted process which involves many factors like economy, environmental conditions, agricultural production, institutions, market linkages, etc. Climate change is one of the leading causes that alter the production, processing, and transportation of food. Food insecurity can give rise to many other issues like malnutrition, stunting, and other health issues.

Gilgit-Baltistan is a region with its unique ecosystem where communities live in sparsely populated valleys with limited agricultural land not even enough to meet the local food demands. Wheat, pulses, vegetables, and other food items supplied from KP and Punjab contribute to the food security in GB to a great extent. People are facing hostile climatic conditions which push them towards food insecurity by affecting their natural resource base.

In GB growing food insecurity is one of the major threats to the population along with other issues like extensive power cuts, land rights, and taxation due to which people have taken to the streets many times in the past.

Being called the water tank of Pakistan, GB has an abundance of water resources, which is the main source of local farming activities, but due to changing weather patterns disasters like flash floods and GLOF are more frequent which destroy agricultural lands as well as other infrastructure as we have seen in Hassanabad and Bubur valleys in summer 2022. Such incidents affect the lives, livelihoods, and food resources of the people in the region.

On the other hand, the population is growing rapidly which increases the demand for food whereas the resources are either static or even reduced in some areas due to socio-economic or climatic changes. The current economic instability and political chaos, coupled with climatic shocks like the floods of 2022 which destroyed the standing crops on thousands of acres of land are adding fuel to the fire in GB. This dilemma pushes the region towards food insecurity by reducing its affordability.

The supply chains are also vulnerable to calamities and often damaged by landslides and other climate-induced disasters, which limit the availability and accessibility of food in the region. It is coupled with the growing tourism industry in GB, which attracts thousands of visitors each year, which increases the demand for food. Summer is the peak time for tourists and people associated with the industry to earn huge profits, but a large chunk of the population is still excluded from the sector because of a lack of resources the increase in the food process of the reduction of food availability in the markets affect them the most.

The local elected representatives are just a pawn of the federal government, who do not have any real authority in any matter including ensuring an adequate food supply. This dependence makes the region even more vulnerable because any change in the economic or political scenario in the federation directly affects the people of GB even though they have nothing to do with that change.

The poor infrastructure in the region is another major hurdle because it hinders the connectivity of far-flung communities to food supplies and markets due to which not only, they cannot access food but also, they are unable to get fair prices on the fruits and other items they sell. Middlemen earn profits whereas the communities remain poor, and less return on farm products pushes them to abandon farming and move to cities to find employment.

Achieving food security is an important part of the global agenda for 2030, but the current status on this matter and the ongoing issues of population growth, economic and political instability, global wars, pandemics, natural disasters, and income disparities makes us realize how far we are lagging achieving the targets.

Researcher conventionally identify different pillars of food security which are accessibility, affordability, utilization, nutritional value, and stability. But the modern literature identifies two new pillars, first is the agency, which is the capacity of individuals or community to control their own circumstances and provide a meaningful input into governance process, in case of GB this pillar is clearly absent. Second pillar is the sustainability which can replace stability because stability is short term and sustainability is long term, it can be achieved through sustainable development in the region which does no seem to be happening currently.

Although many local and international organizations are investing in projects of local agriculture development by providing training to local farmers on new farming techniques and assisting them in getting modern equipment like greenhouses, machinery, and other logistics, the government does not seem to be taking any significant steps in this aspect.

There is a dire need to conduct evidence-based research by the government to formulate policies that are representative of the people’s needs. This can be done by ensuring local participation in decision-making, which will not only address the local issues but will also instil a sense of ownership among the communities. The incorporation of local knowledge and experiences in policymaking will also enable the government to develop climate-resilient strategies. Local capacity building is another aspect which needs to be focused on to achieve food security while fighting the threat of climate change.

The writer is MS researcher of Climate change and food security at NUST Islamabad. Email: wasimsajjad442@gmail.com

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