Mar 28 - Apr 3, 20

In the backdrop of mounting inflation, frightening law and order situation, unnerving political noise heightening with every passing day, the heroic win of the quarter final by team of Pakistan gave a reason to smile to the depressed nation to mark the national event of Pakistan Day in a befitting manner.

However, the persistent law and order situation, target killing and inhuman acts of terror and violence altogether have shattered the dream of the people to live in harmony, peace, tranquility, and economic prosperity.

On one hand, the rising poverty level and fast eroding currency value and poor per capita income that is below two dollars a day has left no space for the common man to face the exorbitant food or energy prices, the ever rising food prices are dragging the food out of the reach of the masses on the other. It is extremely painful to note that the country is full of food but the poverty level is so high that people are unable to buy it.


Though the pinch of the mounting food inflation is being felt by the majority of the people, yet the World Food Programme of the United Nation has also ratified that Pakistan's government has pushed food prices too high for an impoverished population, as malnutrition levels increase despite reaping bumper crops after devastating floods last year.

It is universally agreed that the food is the first priority for life and the economies around the world leave no stone unturned to ensure food security and for that matter even United States as well as India do not comprise with WTO rules and avoid to withdraw subsidies available to agriculture sector in their respective countries. Despite worst kind of financial turmoil, these economies kept the food prices within the reach of common person.

According to Wolfgang Herbinger, Director for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Pakistan, the food crops especially wheat in the southern flood-hit plains were recovering fast with the prospect of decent crops over the coming weeks.

It may not be out of place to mention that the in view of the bumper wheat crop and the carryover inventory of the commodity the policy makers have decided to allow export of the wheat with a view to fetch the much sought after foreign exchange. The wheat or flour (Atta) prices have adversely affected the kitchen budget of the people and they might not be able to sustain the inflationary pressure any more in the wake of exporting basic food out of the country.

According to UN Food Organization's remarks, the food security situation remains difficult because prices remain so high.

When commenting on the food situation, the analysts said that the agriculture sector is absolutely dominated by the feudal turned politicians having an effecting pull on the policy makers who are allowed to fix the support price of agriculture produce.

Similarly, identical remarks were made by World Food Programme that the government is the biggest buyer of wheat in the country and it is setting the farm gate price, and dominate market, Herbinger explained. And that is the reason why the wheat price in Pakistan didn't adjust when, for example, in 2009 and early 2010 the wheat price had gone back a lot, it stayed high to the detriment of local consumers.

The ordinary consumers have to pay double the price for wheat compared to three years ago and the food security situation has "changed dramatically", the WFP official added.

As a result of rocketing food prices, the malnutrition levels in the southern province of Sindh have reached 21 to 23 percent, according to the UN agency. "That is well above African standards. The emergency standard is 15 percent," the WFP official said.

A recent survey found that in some flood-hit areas 70 percent of people were taking out loans and even using them to pay for food.

It is quite disgusting that representatives of the people especially in the opposition's camp are more worried and hurried about their party interests and instead of taking care of the masses, the coalition or opposition is prone to serve party interests.

The World Food Programme is also working with the Ministry of Agriculture to explain to the minister that it is not enough to have enough production in the country if people can't afford it.

"Maybe for political reasons he doesn't always understand it, that it's one thing to be nice to the farmers but if your consumers can't afford it then... there's something wrong with agricultural policy," Herbinger said.

Yet another factor behind food inflation in Pakistan is the unreasonably high price of electricity, and petroleum products, which have multiplier effects on general prices especially food prices as the transportation cost from farm to market and later to the retail stage naturally contributes to price inflation. Whenever the prices of petroleum products go up the first thing to get affected are the food prices.

The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority has recently moved a proposal to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani for an increase of Rs11.5 per liter in petroleum prices in view of the rise in international oil prices. In the light of the past experience, it looks that the new prices would be approved by the prime minister and if it will be the case the price of Tandori Roti which is currently being sold at Rs8-10 may go up further.

Actually, the unabated rise in street crime and law and order situation can be attributed to the unaffordable rise in the cost of living which is reflected in the growing rate of power theft to the tune 40 percent theft in the power distribution system of the country.

The policy makers will have to think twice before matching the local energy prices with the international price level because the per capita income level does not come at par with the standardized income level around the world. There would be no harm in increasing the price level if the income level is also increased simultaneously.