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Published Date: Oct 17, 2011

Food prices: from crises to stability (SDPI Press Release)

The speakers of a conference organized to commemorate the World Food Day have stressed the need of having an effective and responsive food governance mechanisms to ensure equal access to food and to control high food prices in Pakistan.

Highlighting food and energy as immediate challenges faced by Pakistan, they said it is time to invest in agriculture, devising startegy to import food commodities from neighbouring countries at time of higher food prices and to create strategic food grain reserves at national as well as at regional level.

This was discussed during a seminar “Food prices: from crises to stability” was jointly organized by Oxfam Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Monday.

Dr Abid Q. Suleri, Executive Director, SDPI was of the view that as a nation we are becoming a food insecure nation as not only food consumption patterns are changing but also poverty and social unrest is increasing. He recommended government to invest more in agriculture sector adding that if it do not happens there will rise of unplanned urbanization involving urban slums due to lack of opportunities in rural areas and agriculture. He urged the government to enforce effective mechanisms for food prices control at the local level and to deal with hoarding market practices due to fluctuating gaps in demand-supply.

He also suggested import of food items at least vegetables from India as trade relations improve due MFN status. He also recommended free school lunch system in the public school which would ensure at least one-time nutrition food in a day to the children of poor families besides a thorough assessment of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) to determine the effectiveness of resources invested in this initiative. He also recommended skill trainings, micro-finance and connectivity to local markets for communities in Pakistan. He also underscored the need of a local government system to control food prices.

He said food prices in Pakistan are a governance crisis. He said country produces enough production but then why 15 percent decreased in wheat consumption has taken place during last year is mainly due to food prices vary because of access and infrastructure related challenges. Appreciating the devolution process, he however lamented that giving ministry of Food and Agriculture under ministry of science of technology would only improve technological aspects of ministry but not the food related issues. He lamented over the shift from an agricultural economy to services sector economy bypassing industrial economy which requires highly literate, professionally qualified and skilled labor in contrast to agriculture and manufacturing sector.

He said that till last year 50 percent population was spending their 65-75 percent of income on food at the cost other social expenditures such as shelter and education and health. He maintained that food deficiency leads to intra-house food insecurity among lower-middle and lower class families as priority is given to male breadwinners to keep them physically fit for family earnings at the cost of women, children and elderly. He said that food deficiency creates low IQs, health risks involving outbreaks of diseases, malnourishment as populations switch towards less-cost food items or reduce portions of food items.

Kavin D Gallagher, Country Representative, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) talked about fluctuating food prices in Pakistan and across globe. He identified 2008 global financial crisis as real factor which increased food prices globally and also the relationship food prices with growing oil prices.

He said that Pakistan had bumper wheat crop last year in districts which were not affected buy historic 2010 floods. The districts which were affected last year, and this year also have become food insecure, where farmers had become heavily indebted as they have to borrow to rebuild their houses as well as invest in agricultural inputs such as seeds and grains and restock their livestock.

Kevin was of the view that food storage is not only Pakistan’s problem but rather it’s a global issue. He said that recurrence of disasters across the world have heavily dented the food grains reserves resulting in enormous increase in food prices. He further said that IMF and financial institutions through structural adjustments, have encouraged countries to move towards food reserves in private sectors, which further lowered the grain stocks throughout the world.

Kavin highlighted production and access to food, while talking about food governance in Pakistan. “Pakistan is a very blessed country that produces enough food and even exports it, but have severe problem of access to food. Some districts are producing excess food there is serious scarcity of food in some places. So, there is serious need to work on access to food for people.”

He predicted that food prices would remain high in coming days and there is an immediate need to create decent jobs that would increase the buying capacity of people to buy food at higher prices.

Talking of devolution of agriculture to provinces, he said that devolution is good initiative but there must be some mechanisms to protect Pakistan’s interest at international forums, maintain price control in the country, satisfy food and agricultural needs in the country, maintain credible statistics and, monitor and control prices.