Apr 21 - 27, 2008

Many analysts feared that persistent load shedding skyrocketing food prices could trigger violent demonstration in the country. These fears came true recently when Multan witnessed its first big outbreak of public violence against load-shedding. Thousands of people came out and torched the offices of the Multan Electricity Power Company along with other properties like banks, shops, petrol pumps and automobiles. They were angry about unending load shedding, which has become a routine.

These outages have crippled the power-loom industry and rendered tens of thousands people jobless. Along with Faisalabad, Multan has a big concentration of power looms whose lifeline is electricity. The demonstrators were chanting slogans against persistent load-shedding and calling it their financial assassination.

It may have come like a shock because the demonstrations were held in the constituency of sitting Prime Minister. However, residents of Karachi have been facing a similar situation for months, including sudden stoppage of electricity supply by WAPDA. It is feared that such riots may spread to other cities unless the government takes appropriate measures for protecting various communities against unemployment due to electricity outages.

The situation is real precarious due to an ancillary looming crisis, the crisis of scarcity of food items. If people have money to buy food, they can survive the hardship of high prices; but if they are unemployed they have no other course but suicide or rioting. Some of the desperate have already started exercising this option.

Pakistan is already one of the groups of states where food is in short supply for various reasons and where the people are liable to stage violent protests. A World Bank report says Pakistan is among 36 countries facing wheat shortage. Most of the stricken states are in Africa but the four Asian ones are in South Asia.

There are two other contentious issues related to food and both are related to employment 1) unemployment swells the number people who can't buy food and 2) the employed population has the money but can't buy food at the price fixed to please the growers. In the prevailing scenario the first group can turn violent and even tend to commit suicide. The second group needs marginal remedial measures by the government, which cannot do much for either of the groups.

Reportedly food prices have risen by almost 50% in less than a year and there is an acute shortage of all the food cereals i.e. rice, wheat and maize. Various factors, including reduced production due to climate change, historically low levels of stocks, higher consumption of meat and dairy products in emerging economies, increased demand for bio-fuels production and the higher cost of energy and transport have led to surges in food prices and Pakistan cannot be an exception.

Climate change imposes stresses on the ability to feed ever growing populations. This challenge brings new threats to arable land areas, livestock rearing and fisheries through droughts, water shortages and pollution of land, air and sea. It is, after all, agricultural and livestock production that provide the raw materials that are basic to human existence.

In the recent past, a number of developing countries have become net importers of food. In countries from Bangladesh to Zambia, nearly 40% of the population suffers from malnutrition and skyrocketing food prices are worsening their situation.

It is essential to increase agricultural investment in water control and infrastructure and to facilitate small farmer access to inputs, so they can raise their productivity. No one can undermine the importance of effective marketing and processing systems for agricultural products.

Pakistan has to focus its agriculture and agro-based industries because these help in preserving food stuffs, adding value and reducing post-harvest losses. It also enables products to travel longer distances, including to the rapidly expanding cities. Agro-based industries also generate demand for agricultural products and hold vast potential for off-farm rural employment. It also adds significant value to farm production, whether for domestic or export markets.

According to analysts food crisis puts the blame on the governments telling farmers to diversify from growing food to becoming golf courses etc. Food crisis also highlights bad governance .There is enough food in the world to feed everyone if it is properly planned, and the greed of some is curtailed. One can bet that certain groups are making a fortune out of this right now.

On such group comprise of developed countries, producing bio-fuels from food stipends. Therefore, some sort of balance has t o be struck between energy demand and food availability at affordable prices. On of the groups is demanding immediate and complete ban on production of bio-fuels.

The developed countries are selfish. According to the democratic spirit all people are equal, but rich people never miss a chance of exploiting the poor. While people cannot afford to buy food the westerners continue to drive their vehicles on bio-fuel.

According to some analysts Pakistan's problems are unique, it produces surplus but the real problem is that the food cannot reach the hungry people. The food crisis is because distribution of food is skewed. While some have plenty others have none or have too little. For example rice crisis prevails in the Philippines. The crisis is not due to any shortage or absence of the staple. It is mainly a result of greed and corruption. Hoarding and diversion is rampant because the government is unable to coup up with the problem because politics is given precedence over the welfare of the masses. However, it can be concluded that the rice crisis is a result of manipulation of influential persons.

A question is often asked why the world is running out of food when all the governments encourage farmers to leave land uncultivated to avoid over-production in order to keep prices high. It is all about 'supply and demand'. If supply outstrips demand the price falls, so supply is restricted to ensure it never exceeds demand. Therefore, why not produce what the land is capable of yielding then sell or give the surplus to third world countries?

It's frustrating to hear people blaming the food shortage solely on overpopulation from the developing nations. The US and many European countries are the ones consuming the most. Ever heard of obesity? This imbalance of wealth is one of the causes that overpopulation is happening. As someone has mentioned, in order to survive a family must be large enough. This over-consumption from the industrialized nations needs to be curbed as soon as possible!