CAUSES OF FOOD INSECURITY IN PAKISTAN
TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
Feb 28 - Mar 6, 2011
In a recent high-level conference, food and agriculture organization (FAO) of United Nations urged the agriculture economies and private sectors to scale up investments in agriculture sectors to ensure global food security. FAO says, "food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life."
Consistent rise in prices of agriculture commodities raised the concerns of world leaders in the conference. Over the last three years, prices of agriculture produces have been rising unabatedly world over, driven by production shortfall. For last 30-years, agriculture witnessed insignificant flows of investments, it noted and warned the world of irrepressible implications by 2015 of restrained flow of investments in agriculture; and therefore called for investments from public and private sectors and realignment in government policies to augment agriculture productions.
The situation is no different in Pakistan. Conventional methods are still in use in the country for agriculture production, and thus causing capacity underutilisation. Production shortfall is not the main cause of rise in prices of majority of food items in Pakistan. Instead, price control mechanism is weak to the detriment of food security in the country. Inequitable access to food and malnutrition are because of inept governance. Low-income group is the principal victim of hikes in prices of essential products, a fact stressed upon by the FAO. Therefore, improving agriculture production is essential to control poverty, it stressed.
In Pakistan, food prices jumped 16.15 per cent during the last week. Things that escape price hike can be counted on fingertips. Many items ranging from poultry, meats, beefs, spices, and other kitchen items are affected by price storm every now and then. On the other hand, prices of medicines are also on the rise. The point of concern of every person affected by the price spikes is why the prices keep on increasing frequently. Even grocery owners remain spellbound when asked about reasons behind upward price trends. Their common reply to nagging customers is, "we have to pay high price to wholesalers," who make backend supplies responsible for high price. Every person in the entire chain of supplies wants a clean chit and passes the buck. Price tags of products are so often changed as if no one is there to regulate them and manufacturers are given freehand to do as they like to celebrate on consumers' flesh. Consumers are considered a dunce scapegoats to be sacrificed for a slight increase in prices of inputs. Price hike makes sense when it is unavoidable in circumstances such as frequent increase in electricity tariffs and reduction in factory working hours on disturbed law and order. However, illogical is arbitrary rise in prices of consumer goods. For example, poultry and milk prices are highly volatile and no reason can justify the rise in poultry price sometimes.
Critics say the state departments responsible to regulate prices of grocery items have abysmally failed to contain unjustifiable rise in prices of products. Not once, umpteen times it has been brought to the notice of government that profit hoarders are main cause behind price hike. But, either authorities could not find the point to begin with to knock down the rackets of price storm-mongers, or they don't have will to do that so. Why should they do so? After all, it is a common person who is crushed by the uncouth price rise. Elitists or policymakers are least bothered if rates of onion, rice, tomato, beef, chicken, spices increase. For them, it is a non-issue. If that is an exaggeration, let us remind a single act of government or specifically price control authority done to tighten noose around those behind rises in prices of food items. Either such 'those' have pedigrees right up to someone in parliaments or persons with powers/influences or have knack of building repos with influential persons to get things done. Sugar crisis of last year has only slipped into temporary sleep to rear again perhaps this year. Is there any doubt about forces that juiced up the crisis? Price control mechanism and departments (both provincial and federal) are inefficient and compromising at best.
Insensitive also people have become. They have found out their own means of 'be on the safe side'. Yes, lack of education is a cause of their individualistic and egotistic acts indifferent to the whole society. Of late, this scribe met with a person who has started a business of trading. When inquired he said it is an investment of such and such amount in container full of tea packs destined for markets from the company's warehouse. What do you get? He replied difference in original price and price-to-be after shortage in the markets. Alas, this is an example widely cloned like mushrooms all over the place in this country.
The role that should be played by political parties is yet to be played. Politicians are obsessively involved in power game right now. Point scoring is the only thing they are directing their energies to. Had they played well to finish with an accolade of good governance, the things would have been quite different.
Food security can pose serious risk to the masses of Pakistan. But, for now the food insecurity in Pakistan is because of governance problems that can be redressed alone by devolution of price control authority over at least consumer goods and services to district governments. Price control authority should be devolved to district administrations entirely with federal and provincial governments keeping their hands off a natural district-subject. Decentralisation is considered as the best solution to governance issues, even in monarchic states such as Saudi Arabia. Corruption can also be best tackled in local governance systems. If ensured of equitable justice system and zero tolerance for corruption, investors will definitely have no problems in making investments to improve the agriculture sector's outputs to tone down intensity of threats to global food security and to strengthen Pakistan's economy.