On the 22nd February 2019, at the request of the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition (GloPan), the SBN Pakistan organised a consultation session with the private sector, bringing together its key members to discuss how the private sector can influence food systems in a way that will improve the food environment and enable better dietary choices.
Its main objective was to explore potential opportunities to build a more ambitious and effective link between the public and private sectors to encourage and enable businesses to shift the balance of their activities in favour of food products that are more nutritious, affordable and accessible to all.
Over the course of the one-day consultation session, the private sector was recognised as a key player, in partnership with government and development partners, in demand creation for healthy foods through consumer awareness and innovative technology. However, several challenges were identified as significant barriers to the private sector’s ability to transform the food system in Pakistan. These include:
1. Inconsistent regulations
SBN Pakistan stressed the difficulty of businesses to comply with complex regulations, especially when standards and authorities differ between the nation’s provinces. They called for a national regulatory framework for food quality and safety which would not only improve efficiencies, but it would create a more favourable environment to incentivise and steer the private sector towards producing healthier products.
2. Investment gaps
Investment gaps are currently limiting the private sector’s ability to grow and promote crops which support dietary diversity. To tackle this, re-targeting subsidies in agriculture and food towards foods with high nutritional content was highlighted as a potential solution by SBN Pakistan. Furthermore, it was raised that linking nutrition with subsidies could put more emphasis on the link between agriculture and food with economic growth.
3. Need for technical assistance and access to finance
With 75% of the market being informal, SBN Pakistan emphasized that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) needed more support in accessing technical assistance and finance if they were to formalise and create a market that supports healthy diets for all. Improved access to bank loans and the introduction of tax and import duty exemptions were shared as examples of ways that government policy and legislation could assist SMEs and stimulate the investment in healthier food products. For example, since 2017 the Government of Pakistan has introduced exemptions from all import duties on fortificant premix which was more recently extended to include fortification equipment.
The consultation was a part of GloPan’s broader activities in Pakistan which will include a high-level roundtable later in the year with representatives from the Government. February’s meeting served as an opportunity for preliminary discussions to take place, through which SBN Pakistan members provided substantive inputs on the opportunities and challenges facing the private sector. These inputs will be compiled by GloPan, published as a policy brief and most notably, flagged to the Government ahead of the high-level roundtable.
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