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Business Recorde

Published Date: Dec 10, 2014

Social side of food insecurity

Successive governments in Pakistan have been fond of taking credit for
high agriculture produce, especially in staple crops like wheat, rice
and sugarcane. But they are usually clueless about why, then, Pakistan
has very high incidence of food insecurity. Various estimates converge
towards a damning indictment that Pakistans food insecurity rate is more
than 50 percent – that is, every second Pakistani is food insecure –
and that the incidence is growing due to population growth and economic

Many people now realize that it is fallacious to argue that high
staple production will inevitably lead to optimal consumption in the
society. But the problems run deeper than that. The ongoing three-day
SDPI conference in Islamabad (Pathways to Sustainable Development)
prominently placed food security in its agenda. Yesterdays food security
sessions yielded several insights on social dimensions of the problem.

Some glaring problems stand out. First is the gender disparity
dimension. Almost half of Pakistans population is female and roughly the
same the incidence of food insecurity. There could be some correlation
between these two variables in a patriarchal society like Pakistans,
though there is no study to pinpoint whether a relationship exists or
how strong the association is.

But experts point out that low-income and low-educated
households tend to prioritize their food baskets for male household
members, who are seen as the main breadwinners. Beyond affecting the
female populations ability to be active members of the society, what
this household-level inequity does, is that it leaves females
food-deficient, which sets up the stage where newborns may also be
vitamin-deficient. Result could be in various forms of malnutrition that
later haunt a whole generation of kids.

Second is the perennial nature of conflicts and disasters in
Pakistan which threaten any hard-earned gains made towards food access
and poverty alleviation. For instance, floods in Punjab and Sindhs
plains and rangelands are now occurring almost every year. The
governments have largely been negligent in disaster-risk-reduction and
post-event rehabilitation response.

But part of the blame also lies with the affectees who continue
to refuse to settle away from flood-prone danger zones or refuse to
evacuate when floods are about to hit their establishments. That
behaviour is explained due to the tough socioeconomic conditions of
affectees, who are more likely to be marginalised people. Deluged
communities mean that people have to take shelter far away with limited
food availability (if they
e lucky).

Third is the social influence of the mythical or real
“middleman”. Despite substantial increases in the support prices for
wheat and other staples since 2008, the farmers organizations are
suggesting that small growers are yet to see the price impact on their
sales. Meanwhile, city dwellers have faced the brunt of high prices for
flour, sugar, rice and vegetable.

Between hungry growers and wary urbanites is the middleman and
his squeeze, experts say. That middleman is definitely entrenched in
farmlands on one hand, and in power corridors on the other. But the
status quo has probably gone on for so long because small farmers haven
been able to, for whatever reasons, come around to the idea of farming
collectives on a large scale. Maybe growers should be more collaborative
for their common good.

The concluding point here is that yes, the government should
take the major blame here for a population that is increasingly growing
but not getting adequate calorific intake. But that alone cannot
adequately explain the whole problem. There are social dimensions at
work too, few of which are highlighted above. The state should reflect
and act on the grave food insecurity issues, but so should the society.

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