FOOD CRISIS

ATIF HASSAN
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Aug 2 - 8, 2010

We live in a country where pizza reaches home faster than ambulance and police, where one can get car loan at 10 percent and education loan at 20 per cent, where rice is sold at Rs90 per kg but SIM card is free, where shoes are sold in air conditioned showrooms but vegetables we eat are sold at footpath, and where we make lemon juices with artificial flavors and dish wash liquid with real lemon.

A news report says Pakistan is leading the region in per person annual sugar consumption. On average, every Pakistani is now consuming 25 kilograms of sugar every year. Please take few seconds to think about it. Take your eyes off the magazine and for few seconds imagine what I just wrote that every Pakistani...25 kilograms of sugar...in one year.

Sprawling behind Pakistan are other countries of the region like India with 14 kg/person, China with 11 kg/person and Bangladesh with 10 kg/person.

It is expected that in 2010, Pakistan's sugar demand is going to be 4,350,000 tones. Pakistan is expected to produce 3,600,000 tones of sugar locally while the rest will have to be imported.

With the arrival of Ramadan, and amidst all rumors of usual sugar hoarding there is a full fledge sugar crisis at hand in Pakistan. The reality on street is that price of sugar in retail has hit Rs62/kilogram in Karachi and in rest of the country it is even higher. Government is claiming that utility stores will sell sugar for Rs38/kg but when will it happen remains to be seen.

In Shahabnama it was mentioned that once in Ayub Khan's time sugar shortage happened. Ayub Khan's agriculture minister in those days was A. Hoti who overnight got the laqab of cheeni chor (sugar thief) from the public. Where ever the minister went people used to shout 'cheeni chor cheeni chor'. It is said that minister actually took the title to heart and remedied the situation by going against sugar hoarders. Times have changed. Today I think any protest like this will not even 'move a lice on the ear' of any minister.

Pakistan, with a population of 164 million, has a health profile characterised by high population growth, infant and child mortality, and maternal mortality rates. Malnutrition is among the major causes of morbidity and mortality in children. Nutritional surveys point towards serious systemic deficits in nutritional status. Nationally, 24 percent of people are below the calorie-based food plus non-food poverty line.

In the Pakistani diet cereals remain the main staple food providing 62 percent of total energy. Compared to other Asian countries, the level of milk consumption is significant in Pakistan, whereas the consumption of fruits and vegetables, fish and meat remains very low. The consumption of fruit and fresh vegetables, which are highly dependent on local seasonal availability, is also limited by the lack of organised marketing facilities throughout the country. Fluctuations in the availability of these important foods are likely to be one of the factors responsible for the micronutrient deficiency disorders observed in Pakistan.

Food consumption is just one of the multiple factors, which interact and have an impact on the nutritional status of the overall population. Other important influences include morbidity, poor coverage of health infrastructures and socioeconomic factors.

Pakistan is going to face worst water shortage in future due to increasing demand and depleting water reservoirs with the passage of time. Water crises may cause irrecoverable economic costs. Actual economic impact depends on magnitude of water shortage, as it has its usage in agriculture, industry, drinking, and other consumption etc. According to a study, water availability per person in Pakistan today is 1,000 cubic metres, down from 5,600 cubic metres per person in 1947, which is the least level according to international standards, below which is considered chronic water shortage level.

The total land area of Pakistan is approximately 310,322 square miles or 88 million hectares of land, of which approximately 20 million hectares are used for agriculture purposes. The river system of Indus and its branches provide Pakistan some of the most fertile land in the subcontinent. Under the Indus Water Basin Treaty of 1960, Pakistan has its control over the western rivers: the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab. But, the water availability in Pakistan's rivers is highly unreliable. The highest annual water availability in the recorded history 1922 to date was 186.79 million acre feet in the year 1959-60 as against the minimum of 95.99 million acre feet in the year 2001-2002. This includes the Kabul River contribution as well.

The only solution to protect the country from chronic food crisis is to store maximum water. There is a strong need of national consensus over construction of maximum water reservoirs so that maximum water should be stored for the future. This will also help Pakistan avoid serious consequences of global economic downturn. Water management and construction of reservoirs will enhance agricultural growth. Growth of agriculture sector will not only support local industry by providing raw material but also overcome the food shortage. There will always remain the need for foodstuff to feed the nation at least, and will save the country's precious foreign reserve on import of foodstuff. It will also overcome electricity shortage problem intensified these days leading to fading economic activity. Therefore, there is a need to divert the concentration towards water management and creation of reservoirs.