Research Article: Status and determinants of small farming households’ food security and role of market access in enhancing food security in rural Pakistan

Date Published: October 27, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Umar Ijaz Ahmed, Liu Ying, Muhammad Khalid Bashir, Muhammad Abid, Farhad Zulfiqar, Frédéric Mertens.


In most of the developing countries, lack of resources and little market accessibility are among the major factors that affect small farming household food security. This study aims to investigate the status of small farming households’ food security, and its determinants including the role of market accessibility factors in enhancing food security at household level. In addition, this study also determines the households’ perception about different kinds of livelihoods risks. This study is based on a household survey of 576 households conducted through face-to-face interviews using structured interviews in Punjab, Pakistan. Food security status is calculated using dietary intake method. The study findings show that one-fourth of the households are food insecure. The study findings reveal that farm households perceive increase in food prices, crop diseases, lack of irrigation water and increase in health expenses as major livelihood risks. Further, the results of logistic regression show that family size, monthly income, food prices, health expenses and debt are main factors influencing the food security status of rural households. Furthermore, the market accessibility factors (road distance and transportation cost) do significantly affect the small farming household food security. The results suggest that local food security can be enhanced by creating off-farm employment opportunities, improved transportation facilities and road infrastructure.

Partial Text

Food security is a complex phenomenon and may be seen as an integration of three core dimensions i.e. food availability, accessibility and utilization [1] The problem of food insecurity is not only caused by insufficient supply of food, but also due to the lack of purchasing power and access at national and household levels. Therefore, despite gains in global food production and food security over the last three decades [2], still more than 800 million people are undernourished and almost all of them belong to the developing countries [3]. Furthermore, growing population coupled with increased intensity of environmental extreme events i.e. floods, droughts, extreme variability in temperature and rainfall has increased the pressure on current food production systems and has threatened the current food security in most of the developing countries [4]. Due to higher food demands and reduced crop productivity, the higher food prices may further negatively affect the food access and availability for low income and already poor households.

Study findings show that about three-fourth of the households are food secure and about one-fourth are food insecure. However, the surplus and shortfall indices tell us real story. According to the both indices, about 21% of the households fall below the security line and about 48% are fully food secure, while a reasonable number of farm households (31%) unfortunately are at the edge of food security line, falling neither below nor above the reference line. This implies that due to high dependence on climate-sensitive agriculture and low access to adaptive resources, there are chances that many farm households may become food insecure in near future. On the other hand, only 48% of the farm households were found food secure. Similar trends are observed in some parts of Punjab, Pakistan [17] and other developing countries with similar conditions such as Nigeria [52–54]. Further, the food insecurity gap shows that food insecure households were consuming 5% per capita less calories than food secure household. In line with other studies [55–56], the problem of food insecurity was 6% severe in the study area. However, the method used to calculate per capita average daily caloric intake may have some limitations as it does not directly capture the dietary intake of different age and gender groups among households and totally rely on household head’s consumption pattern. Therefore, the results generated by may be overstated or understated due to several reasons. For example, some of the studies found that Adult Consumption Equivalents calculations were 20% above or below than actual dietary intake [43]. However, these results may be improved through carefully constructing the questionnaire to capture background information and caloric intake of respondent household head.

Using a household survey of 576 farmers from different agro-climatic zones of Punjab, Pakistan, this study evaluates the small farming households’ food security status and its determinants including role of market accessibility factors in defining food security at rural household level. The study findings show that the food security situation of farm household is not convincing as still a large fraction of farm households are either food insecure or fall at the edge of food security line. Further, increase in food prices, crop diseases and lack of water are major risks perceived by farmers that may affect their livelihood and food security status. These most important risks are directly or indirectly associated with current changes in climate and suggest the need for proper action to protect livelihoods of small farming communities, which are totally dependent on agriculture sector. Adaptation of the current farming systems and livelihoods to these risks could be one of the options to cope with current and upcoming problems. However, for this purpose, efforts are required both at local as well as at policy level. Further, family size, monthly income, increased food prices, debt, health expenses and more importantly market-related factors like distance to paved road and transportation cost significantly influence the household’s food security status. All this implies that more investment and focus need to be given on food distribution system and infrastructure. Easy access to market and improvement in the infrastructure will not only reduce the transportation cost but it will also improve the availability of cheap food products at local level. Further, it will also increase household purchasing power and will improve food security status at local level. In this regard, local governments also need to prioritize the provision of basic health facilities in rural areas in order to reduce the health expenses of low-income groups that ultimately may have positive impact on food security. In addition, off-farm employment opportunities need to be generated in rural areas to accommodate surplus labor from agriculture sector in order to enhance labor productivity in agriculture sector and farm income.