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Business Recorder

Published Date: Dec 31, 2011

88 DISTRICTS OF PAKISTAN FACE FOOD INSECURITY, MOOT TOLD

It is a point to ponder that despite having 8 million tons surplus grain, 88 districts of Pakistan are faced with food insecurity, as poor storage facilities is the main cause of 25-30 percent post-harvest loses every year.
This was the crux of the day-long policy forum on “Food Price Volatility and Policy Options” jointly organised by Actionaid and Oxfam GB in collaboration with Pakistan Kissan Ittehad and Sustainable Agriculture Action Group (SAAG) here on Friday.Mahnaz Ajmal Paracha from Oxfam, Nasir Aziz and Aftab Alm from Actionaid, Muhammad Amin, agriculture policy analyst, and Shafqat Munir, policy analyst were among the participants.
The participants highlighted that the overall kitchen expenses have increased by over 50 percent in the last few years, basic utilities such as electricity and gas are not available, expenditures are high, but the incomes are still the same.
They said that there was no match between the ratio of food price hike and income.They were of the view that the government should invest more in agriculture sector.
They urged upon the government to come up with food security plan to ensure provision of food to 50 percent poor people as well as to protect the small farmers.
They cited the India Food Bill that enables 70 percent rural and 60 percent urban poor to get food on nominal prices.Food is the reach of masses due to all-time high food inflation being faced by poor segment of society.
In spite of having eight millions tons of surplus grains, Pakistan is facing high food inflation, they added.
“Around 60 percent of Pakistan’s total population is facing food insecurity, while the increasing rate of chronic and acute malnutrition in the country is primarily due to poverty, higher illiteracy rate among mothers along with the government’s lack of commitment towards ensuring food security to each and every citizen,” they pointed out.
Pakistan needs to develop a pro-poor growth strategy and ensure social safety nets for the poor.The government needs to be cautious about inflation and thus has taken various steps to release demand pressures on the one hand and enhance supplies of essential commodities on the other.
Inflation needs to be nipped in the bud to limit its impact on long-term growth.
Economic growth may suffer in the short run, but it’s the price the economy must pay to return to its long-term high growth path.
The food prices in Pakistan started increasing during the fiscal year 2007-08 mostly due to the poor management policies of the government, climatic change and high prices of inputs used for the production of crops.Half of the total population of Pakistan has become a victim of food deficiency, while 45-50 percent population has become a prey to poverty.
For the last ten years, the wheat prices have shown 200 percent increase, sugar 174 percent and gram prices have increased to 133 percent.
Mahnaz Ajmal Paracha said that the food price hike was causing increase in hunger and malnutrition, especially among women and children.She said households were spending more than 65 percent of their income on food, cutting expenditure on non-food such as education and health.
Nasir Aziz said that higher food prices hurt poor and their coping mechanisms, while the poor families were forced to eat cheaper foods with lower nutritional value, consume less food in meals or even skip meals at times.Aftab Alam from Actionaid said it was alarming to note that during last three years prices of wheat flour rose by 78 percent, while sugar price increased by over 160 percent, meat by 103 percent, pulses 89 percent, milk 85 percent, rice 44 percent, vegetable oil by 66 percent and vegetable by 39 percent due to which millions of more people had plunged into poverty.
He said according to estimation, if prices go 10 percent high, 2.2 percent of population is trapped into poverty.Muhammad Amin disclosed that the government through its resources provide support price mechanism to protect farmers from any price fluctuation impacts.
He called for regulating the role of middlemen so that they cannot exploit farmers, besides suggesting an enhanced role of agriculture extension services and credit mechanism to facilitate farmers.Dr Shahid Zia said that the small farmers having less than 25 acres of land should be exempted from any tax, while tax can be introduced on the basis of land holding above 25 acres.
He said the provincial governments could tax on different slabs such as 25-50 acres and 50 acres or more.Shafqat Munir emphasised, “Price hike is not a political, but a national issue and each political or administrative force is responsible for arresting price hike.
They need to take up the issue as a national issue and should not use as a political stunt against each other.”