On March 16, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani launched a National Zero Hunger Action Programme to be carried out by the newly-created Ministry of National Food Security and Research following transfer of the ministry of agriculture, food and livestock to the provinces.
Inspired by similar Brazilian and Indonesian projects, Pakistan’s venture is a five-year plan that would cover 61 million food insecure people across the country at a cost of $16 billion but how different it would be from the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) is not clear.
The BISP makes cash transfers and extends loans to the chosen few, the zero hunger programme will provide food commodities to some of the vulnerable sections of society. The programme, in its first year, is expected to reach 12 million people constituting 20 per cent of the total affected population at a cost of $1.04 billion. Since partner organisations of the programme include USDA, USAID, WFP and UNICEF, their contributions will be of vital importance.
The new ministry, which is currently fighting for control of 12 projects of the defunct ministry of agriculture which the Planning Commission has opposed, has also signed a letter of intent with the WFP, under which some 500,000 metric tones of wheat, donated by the government of Pakistan will be converted by it into nutritious food items that will be provided to malnourished children, pregnant women and primary schoolchildren. According to Abid Qaiyum Suleri, head of SDPI, also a partner body: “The good news is that despite persistent denial from official sources, food insecurity has eventually been acknowledged as a problem in Pakistan at the official level following passage of the 18th Amendment in the Constitution.” While addressing the food security conference last month, the prime minister had acknowledged that food insecurity was a serious issue and deserved immediate attention.
However, the fact remains that it is not the abundant availability of food in the market that ensures food security. It is the ability of the needy to purchase food that ends his insecurity. And that means a basic change in the distribution paradigm. A few days ago, the State Bank of Pakistan, in a report on food security, made bold observations. It said: “The inequitable distribution of land and the lack of constitutional rights for peasants prevalent in the country have to be addressed squarely, so that the poor in rural areas gain access to and control over land resources.” This requires land reforms.
The report said the government and the State Bank were alive to the situation and wished to establish a farmer-friendly policy and regulatory environment that encourages the development of a sustainable agricultural sector. Pakistan, it said, is vulnerable to food insecurity because of several factors such as slowdown in availability of irrigation water; slower growth of food crops resulting in low yield, inadequate storage capacity, higher post harvest losses and the continuing war against terrorism.
What remains generally oblivious is the fact that while farmers grow enough food to feed the world, commodity speculators and grain traders control the global food prices and distribution. For a family living on the extreme of poverty, a small price increase can a big difference. Although Pakistan is producing sufficient food, often more than it requires, food insecurity continues to increase.
According to Peter Phillips, a research scholar, starvation is profitable for corporations when demands for food push the prices up. Profits of Cargill, a leading food multinational, from commodity trading for the first quarter of 2008 were 86 per cent above 2007. World food prices grew 22 per cent from June 2007 to June 2008 and a major part of the increase was caused by the $175 billion invested in commodity futures that speculate on price instead of seeking to feed the hungry. The result is erratic food price spirals while food insecurity continues to further increase.
Food price inflation in Pakistan has averaged 18 per cent for the last four years while the purchasing power of the poor has declined significantly. Food prices in the country have remained near an all-time peak since late 2010, pushing more millions into abject poverty and some times creating a famine-like situation.
Thirty-six per cent of Pakistanis are undernourished, according to Oxfam’s food price pressure point map, which includes Pakistan among the 21 undernourished nations of the world. The map provides a global view of the impact of the international food price crisis. While most identified nations are from the African continent, Pakistan was found more undernourished than Tanzania (35 per cent), Niger (28 per cent) and even worse than Yemen (32 per cent).
The state of food security in Pakistan has deteriorated since 2003. According to a 2010 report by the SDPI, 48.6 per cent of Pakistan’s 165 million people are food insecure.
Food security is inadequate in 61 per cent of the districts in the country. This is a sharp increase from 2003, when conditions for food security were inadequate in 45 per cent districts. In other words, almost half of the population doesn’t have access to sufficient food for an active and healthy life.
The report shows that provincial disparities exist in terms of food security. Fata (federally controlled tribal areas) has the highest percentage of food insecure population, 67.7 percent, followed by Balochistan, 61.2 per cent, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 56.2 per cent. The lowest percentage of food insecure population, 23.6 per cent, is in Islamabad.
Among the districts, Dera Bugti in Balochistan has the highest percentage of food insecure people — 82.4 per cent. Balochistan has higher number of districts with worst conditions for food security. The 20 districts of Pakistan with worst conditions for food security include ten from Balochistan, five from Fata; three from KP, and one from Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and Sindh each. The number of districts from Balochistan in this category has doubled since 2003. Dera Bugti, Musa Khel, Upper Dir, North Waziristan, Kohistan, Muhammand, Dalbadin, South Waziristan, Orakzai, and Panjgur are the 10 districts with worst conditions for food security.
This article was originally published at: Dawn Economic & Business Review
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.