In an exclusive interview with Daily Pakistan, Unity Foods Ltd. Executive Director Amir Shehzad sat down for a chat and spoke about the reason of introducing fortified foods in the country and how his company plans to set the standard for high quality food that our population, especially the young generation requires to build themselves to be strong and healthy.
1. Why did you introduce fortified foods in Pakistan?
Amir Shehzad: Regarding malnutrition, the situation in Pakistan is critical. According to various studies conducted, it is estimated that around 45 percent of children in the country under the age of 5 years are malnourished. This situation is even more critical in rural areas. You have to understand that in 15 years from now, these children will become part of the country’s workforce. If they do not develop mentally and physically as per acceptable and established health standards, they will not be able to contribute positively to the country’s workforce. We must understand that these young children are our assets, and we must ensure their adequately nourished upbringing to avoid turning them into the country’s liability.
Insufficient nutrition hampers physical and mental growth, impacting overall development. When a mother lacks proper nourishment and financial resources for food, the child's nutritional needs go unmet. Additionally, a significant consequence of inadequate nutrition is the emergence of major diseases like heart disease, leading to a shortened lifespan and a substantial rise in health-related expenses. Families, caught in the dilemma of choosing between purchasing food and essential medicines, face critical decisions in such circumstances. This underscores the importance of developing fortified foods that encompass all essential nutrients.
Fortifying bread with essential nutrients, including zinc, iron, folic acid, and vitamins B-12, is crucial for its nutritional quality. These fortifications serve as the standard for enriched food, a criterion Unity Foods upholds through its Sunridge brand. The challenge in Pakistan lies in the absence of a national flour brand, except for Sunridge. Since bread is a staple consumed by virtually everyone, fortifying it with vital nutrients can significantly address malnutrition. Enhancing this commodity is more effective, and the unique aspect is that Sunridge is the sole national brand operating throughout Pakistan. While there are a few regional brands, most flour mills lack a national presence. Small mills may be unable to prioritize nutritional additives due to cost constraints.
A dosing system is currently installed at our PESA mill. This system automatically adds fortified nutrients to the flour without human intervention. Our focus is on commodities, aiming to facilitate their easy access for people. The country's food security system holds great importance, and the government must give it due attention. We cannot handle this task alone.
A significant number of countries are currently facing food security problems. In Pakistan, the annual requirement for wheat is 30 million tons, but the production is only 27 million tons. Exporting wheat is not possible until our requirement is met. To resolve this issue, we need to embrace corporate farming, and the government must consider policy changes to support corporate farming initiatives. This includes setting up long-term policies; infrastructure spending focused on enhancing farm production and storage, and policies that support corporate farming by providing accessible and affordable financial solutions.
2. How can Pakistan’s agricultural economy be improved?
Amir Shehzad: Pakistan needs to define itself as an agri economy. This is essential as it will focus on developing policies and infrastructure to support agri based economic activity. It will also encourage the private sector to invest in agriculture, which will eventually not only make Pakistan self-sufficient in their agri needs but also have the potential to have surplus crop produce to export and thus earn precious foreign exchange for the country.
Pakistan lacks long-term strategic economic plans. I remember that in the 1970s and 1980s, Pakistan used to have a 5-year strategic plan, which was famously called the “Paanch Saala Mansuba”, prepared by a think tank run by our very able Dr Mehboob Ul Haq, a great economist of his time. We need to have that practice reintroduced.
For some time, we have become very short-sighted in our policies where we are almost always focused on “fighting economic fire”. This has resulted in us lacking any long-term strategic economic plan. We need to focus on bringing into practice farming-supportive policies. We must focus on developing the required infrastructure to support our agri-production and management capabilities. We must focus on introducing efficient water management practices to conserve the precious. We need investment in R&D to produce high-quality agricultural inputs, including seeds and fertilizer. We need investment in producing the latest machinery to support corporate farming. Any imported machinery should be done on a “transfer of technology” basis. These are some of the starting points that we, as a country, need to implement to make Pakistan a true agriculture powerhouse.
3. What role can the government play in this regard?
Amir Shehzad: The government can facilitate the business sector, but the actual implementation lies within the private sector. The government's role includes supporting research and development (R&D) by establishing R&D centres in Pakistan and providing tax concessions to encourage corporate farming. This requires a dedicated focus on the agricultural economy and providing facilities to agricultural universities. Encouraging R&D investments is essential, ensuring that investors receive incentives to improve seed quality, leading to increased yields per acre through the introduction of efficient corporate farming practices.
Moreover, it is imperative to create a policy framework for corporate farming. The government can also promote technology transfer, encouraging local manufacturing rather than dependence on imports. Additionally, the government should mandate corporate farming operators to maintain a specific quantity of commodities in storage, enabling the establishment of strategic reserves crucial for the country.
4. Is there an expiration date on the packaging of your products, and what is the procedure for their packaging? What technology do you use?
Amir Shehzad: Certainly. Our products come with an expiration date, and our flour, for instance, is marked with a six-month shelf life on its packaging. The packaging process for our products remains void of human intervention at every stage, starting from the wheat's receipt to the silo and then to the mill. Once the flour is processed in the mill, it is automatically packed, again without human involvement.
We have deployed both rollers as well as PESA flour mills. Our PESA set-up was the first in Pakistan to give both the taste and aroma of flour produced by traditional chakkis. We proudly stand as pioneers in Pakistan, the first company to integrate advanced Swiss technology into our plants.
5. What are your plans?
Amir Shehzad: Our plans are derived from our vision statement that defines us as a reliable and sustainable producer and supplier of high-quality fortified staples. We aim to grow our brand into a trustworthy national brand for all basic staples. We have already entered into the value-added confectionery business, which we will continue to build to provide our products to local and international markets. We plan to set the standard for high quality food that our population, especially the young generation requires to build themselves to be strong and healthy.
Pakistani currency remains largely stable against US dollar in the open market on February 27, 2024 (Tuesday).
In the open market, the US dollar was being quoted at 279.4 for buying and 282.3 for selling.
Euro currently stands at 303 for buying and 306 for selling while British Pound rate stands at 351.5 for buying, and 355 for selling.
UAE Dirham AED hovers at 76 whereas the Saudi Riyal saw slight increase, with new rates at 76.7.
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