WHILE nearly half of its tenure is now complete, the PML-N government has not been able to finalise a national food security policy. Now, the food ministry has announced that it will conduct a survey to collect tangible data on the food security situation.

The survey will coincide with the World Census of Agriculture (WCA), which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has announced, will be carried out in 2016. It will cover the period till 2025. Pakistan will also participate in the FAO survey.

The availability of timely, accurate and reliable data is a pre-condition for the designing of a sound agriculture policy.

While acknowledging the FAO’s invitation to Pakistan to be a part of the global strategy for improving agricultural and rural statistics, the food ministry says it is fully prepared to launch the agriculture census as it has a comprehensive and well-organised setup to compile farming data. The ministry’s survey will cover all the aspects of food security and the sample will include 20,000 individuals from both rural and urban areas.

The food security survey will possibly coincide with the World Census of Agriculture, which the FAO has announced will be carried out in 2016

The ministry’s system covers all the provinces as well as Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Fata. It will cover all the sub-sectors of agriculture: crops, livestock, fisheries, forestry, agricultural marketing, land records and irrigation.

The last WCA was held in 2010. The 2016 census, to be carried out by the Agricultural Census Organisation under the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, will be the seventh in the series.

Almost 64pc of the country’s population resides in rural areas and earns its livelihood (directly or indirectly) from agricultural activities — crop cultivation, livestock rearing, farm labour, input supply, and transportation of agricultural output to the market etc.

To support the process, the FAO has published a set of updated guidelines to assist governments in carrying out their national-level agricultural censuses, tailored to different countries’ needs and capacities.

These censuses are crucial for governments to implement evidence-based policies to foster agricultural and rural development, ensure access to land, improve food security and reduce the adverse environmental impacts of farm activities. Census data are also essential for the private sector to make informed investment decisions.

A new feature of the WCA is the re-introduction of the notion of essential items, making a clear distinction between ‘essential’ and ‘frame’ items. It is recommended that all countries collect data regarding essential items regardless of their overall approach to the agricultural census. The frame items are intended primarily for inclusion in the core module of a census.

The FAO says increasing efforts have been made in recent years towards achieving better integration of statistical activities. Integration, in a statistical sense, means that each data collection is carried out not in isolation but as a component of the national statistics system.

The data requirements for food and agriculture are extensive and include information on the structure of agricultural holdings, production, farm management, agricultural inputs, food consumption, household income and expenditure, labour force and output prices.

These data can come from agricultural censuses, sample surveys, population censuses and surveys, administrative records or other sources. An integrated agricultural statistics system involves a multi-year programme of statistical activities, including an agricultural census and agricultural surveys.

Based on countries’ experiences and lessons learnt over previous decades, the new guidelines form part of the FAO coordinated World Programme for the Census of Agriculture, which will cover the period 2016-2025. For the first time, the new census programme provides guidance on how to obtain and integrate data on fisheries and on greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions from agriculture-related activities.

Food security minister Sikander Hayat Bosan has also pointed out deficiencies in the statistical system and emphasised that attention should be paid to data automation, uniformity in the methodology for collection, estimation and assessments of all sets of data, better coordination at the national level and participation of all stakeholders.

According to the WCA 2010’s estimates, there were 8.26m farms in the country, operating on an area of 52.91m acres. The distribution of farm area among small and large farmers was highly skewed. Farms with less than five acres of land constituted 64pc of the total 5.35m private farms, but operated only 19pc (10.18m acres) of the total crop area.

Meanwhile, farms sized 25 acres and higher comprised only 4pc (0.30m) of the total farms but commanded 35pc (18.12m acres) of the total farm area. The average farm size in the country was 6.4 acres, whereas the cultivated area per farm was 5.2 acres.

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