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Express Tribune

Published Date: Oct 19, 2011


For a country whose has 50 per cent population spends around three-fourth of its income on food, future is worrisome. Growing food insecurity and a drastic fall in the purchasing power, has widened the need and the scope for the state to play its role in improving the situation.

This was stated by a panel of experts that had gathered to commemorate the World Food Day at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on Monday. The event titled ‘Food prices: From crises to stability’ was jointly organised by Oxfam and SDPI.

They were of the view that for the children who cannot afford a healthy diet, free school lunch system can ensure intake of nutritional food at least once a day for them. Speakers at the conference also stressed the need of having effective and responsive food governance mechanisms to ensure equal access to food and to control high food prices in Pakistan.

Executive Director SDPI Dr Suleri also asked the government to invest more in agriculture sector. “If this does not happen, it will give rise to unplanned urbanisation and increase in slums due to lack of opportunities in rural areas and agriculture,” he said. Dr Suleri urged the government to enforce effective mechanisms for the control of food prices at the local level and to deal with hoarding market practices.

He also suggested import of food items, such as vegetables, from India after the trade relations between the countries improve. Terming the highly fluctuating food prices in Pakistan as a governance crisis, he said that till last year 50 per cent population was spending their 65-75 per cent of income on food at the cost of other social expenditures such as shelter and education and health.

Discussing the same issue, Kavin D Gallagher, Country Representative, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), identified 2008’s global financial crisis as the real factor which increased food prices globally. He also established a relationship between the food prices and the growing oil prices.

“Pakistan had a bumper wheat crop last year in districts which were not affected by the 2010 floods but that did not come to much avail,” he said. The districts which were affected last year, and this year also, have become food insecure. Where farmers have 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, he explained. Gallagher 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.

Meanwhile, Dr Suleri also discussed the much touted Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and said that a thorough assessment would determine the effectiveness of resources invested in this initiative. He said that as a nation we are becoming a food insecure nation as not only the food consumption patterns are changing but poverty and social unrest are also on the rise.