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Government food stamps programme

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From Yousaf Rafiq
Special Correspondent, Islamabad
Feb 14 - 20, 2000

Providing an effective safety net for the poor

Indices of poverty and deprivation in Pakistan are steadily deteriorating. In 1960, about 19 Million people lived in Pakistan. By 1980, the number of people defined by the government as absolutely poor had grown to 34 million. It then fell by 10 million during the 1970s. But poverty started increasing in the 1990s - by 1995 the number of absolute poor rose to 42 million. Given the staggering number of the poor there is an urgent need for providing effective safety nets for the most vulnerable. The Food Stamps Programme included in the Government's Economic Revival Policy announced on 15 December, 1999 is potentially a valuable safety net. Past experience with similar initiatives indicates that the key challenge to making the Food Stamps an effective safety net for the most vulnerable is to ensure that it reaches the poorest of the poor.

Profile of Poverty in Pakistan Poverty remains a critical problem in Pakistan. The targeted anti-poverty programmes are limited with spending on social nets amounting to a mere Rs. 0.2 percent of the GDP. The zakat system caters to the need of about 1.3 million mustahqueens but the amount is insufficient to make a positive impact on poverty alleviation. Out of population of 134.76 million (1998 Census) , 44 million people or 6.5 million household are poor. Household or housing unit is defined as socio-economic unit consisting of individuals who live together whether related to each other or not but sharing the same Kitchen. According to calorie-based approach, food poverty incidence in Pakistan during the year 1998-99 is 32.6%. Rural constitute 34.8% and urban is 25.9%. Food poverty means that these household are not meeting their nutritional requirements. During 1998-99, 30% population received less calories than recommended daily allowances. The distribution of urban-rural areas housing stock in Pakistan is 32.3% and 67.7% respectively. The average number of persons per housing unit at national level is 6.6 persons while its ratio is 6.8 persons rural. Average monthly household consumption expenditure on food is 48% in Pakistan while it is 53.8% in Rural and 41.4% in urban areas.


The growing level of incidence of poverty has necessitated main thrust of the Government to alleviate poverty through combination of macro economic policies, generating high income growth and strengthening social safety net mechanism. Realizing this, the stamps Programme is one of the poverty reduction programme. It would have a positive impact on reduction of poverty situation in the country along with other programmes.

Past Experience

The abrogated food stamp scheme implemented by Pakistan Bait-ul-mal (PBM) attracted a lot of criticism that non-deserving persons managed to become beneficiaries. Audit also observed that Local Zakat Committees and postal staff were giving food stamps to fictitious and non-traceable persons. Moreover week monitoring by zakat Administration and postal authorities was also observed. Another criticism was that food items in return of meager amount against the food stamp. That was being done by the middleman or beneficiaries in connivance with the nominated grocers/shopkeepers. This scheme ran into difficulties when large scale scandals were reported in the media and devaluation of foods stamps was complained by the recipients. Hence the scheme was closed.

A New Initiative

Food poverty has necessitated the government to launch a new food stamps scheme to cater for the needs of the poorest of the poor. A food stamp programme which shall be launched throughout the country with an efficient system of check and balances on following lines. Rural: the district advisory boards will be responsible for distributing food stamps. For the purpose of this programme, the chairman of the Zakat committee will be coopted as a member of DAB. The DAB in collaboration with other non-member community-based organization, if available, will form a male and, if possible, also a female committee in each village to help it identify and reach the poorest of poor. In areas where female village committees cannot be formed, the male village committee will perform as the village committee reaching male and female villagers. Urban: Municipal Advisory Boards well be setup at the metropolitan, municipal and cantonment levels well be given the primary responsibility for distributing Food Stamps in urban areas. The boards, in consultation with non-member local development organizations including NGOs and citizens' association will set up a male and female urban committee to identify the poorest of poor. Army monitoring team will be an additional source of independent scrutiny/check on selection of target groups, supply of food stamps and receipt/consumption of food items by the beneficiaries.

Criteria for Selection

All citizens of Pakistan with family income of no less than Rs 3000 per month excluding government servants, employees of autonomous bodies and Mustehqueen-e-Zakat in any form shall be entitled to receive a Food Stamps on the purchase of Atta, Ghee and Sugar at the rate of Rs 750 per quarter (three months). The average number of persons for a household of this scheme shall not be more than seven persons.

Funds Allocation and Distribution To ensure an equitable distribution, a District/Tehsil/Local Committee shall be considered as a unit for calculation. The amount available for a fiscal year will be divided into provinces and thereafter into districts, tehsils and Local Committees. The budget allocation for each province and each district/tehsil/local committee will be on population/poverty basis and will be communicated by Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal to provinces.