Soaring food prices pushed a further ten million Pakistanis into the ranks of the hungry—the total number of hungry people in the country is now estimated at 46 million, or 28 percent of the population, according to a UN assessment report published in July 2008. There were 36 million hungry people in Pakistan in 2004-06, according to FAO hunger statistics. The country has become a priority of the € 1 billion European Union Food Facility (EUFF), the EU's massive response to increased food insecurity around the world.
"When this crisis hit, we worked hard to get a big slice for Pakistan," says Hans de Kok, the EU's Ambassador to Pakistan. It worked. "Now, this country is the biggest beneficiary of the Food Facility, partly because it suffered badly, and partly because of some of the difficulties the country is going through, not just in farming, but also in security and economically."
In Pakistan, the EU works with FAO and WFP, funding a € 40 million operation through to June 2011. While WFP is providing food assistance to nearly 600 000 farmers and labourers, FAO helps small-scale farmers increase their production, with the overarching aim of making more food available for over 1 million of the country's most vulnerable.
Focus on small farmers
Based on conservative estimates, FAO's assistance during the coming four cropping seasons will lead to an added agricultural production of at least 114 000 tonnes of wheat, as well as 4 750 tonnes of rice and 14 250 tonnes of assorted crops, including vegetables and lentils.
The first thrust was provided in advance of Pakistan's Rabi planting season, starting in November, when a total of 97 500 farmers received agricultural inputs. These included 1 865 tonnes of seeds, such as wheat, tomatoes, lentils and peas, as well as 3 420 tonnes of fertilizer.
Paradoxically, this support comes when Pakistan has just produced a bumper crop of 24 million tonnes of wheat—2 million above its nationwide requirement in food. Yet prices remain stubbornly high, especially in rural areas, where most food insecure people live. The food may be there, but for many, it is too expensive to buy.
Furthermore, explains Gamal Ahmed, FAO's Representative in Pakistan, most of Pakistan's rural population is made up of smallholder farmers, who face increasing difficulties to live off the land. "They can't grow enough for themselves, because the prices of inputs have gone up too," he says. "That's why we focus on providing them with seeds and fertilizer."
Quality seeds, water and extension
But FAO's assistance does not stop there. Pakistan's small farmers need more than inputs alone. "If you ask an ordinary farmer: ‘What's your problem?' he will say immediately: quality seeds and fertilizer, water and extension," says Imran Ahsraf, the EU's Development Adviser in Pakistan.
Ashraf is pleased to see that the inputs are subject to quality certification and meet FAO specifications. He also supports FAO's efforts to ensure that productivity gains are sustainable beyond the current season, by improving irrigation and water harvesting systems, by reducing post-harvest losses, and by offering training to farmers.
"Yields will increase," Ashraf says. "And such change will surely contribute to uplifting farmers in rural areas."