Editorial : Food crisis - Monday, March 21, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/21/food-crisis.html

HUNGER stalks the land. Earlier during the year, the rates of malnutrition in northern Sindh were likened to those prevailing in Chad and Niger. Now, the World Bank has released a report pointing out that inflation in food prices is such that the country’s poorest families spend 70 per cent or more of their total income on food alone. In all provinces, says the report, increases in wages have been considerably below those witnessed in the price of wheat. These facts merit serious attention. Such a massive chunk of the household income going on procuring food would have a disastrous domino effect on family welfare. Even among households that do not count among the country’s poorest, families have been forced to divert funds previously spent on education and healthcare towards grocery budgets. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of people continue to fall below the poverty line.
Consider the long-term effects on a population that is spending virtually all it has to keep body and soul together. Nutritional deficiencies — since prices limit food intake — and consequent ill health will become a reality for millions — perhaps for an entire generation, given how heavily the country’s population demographic is skewed towards the young. This will increase costs incurred by the state in the already strained public health sector. Then, an uneducated and ailing workforce is not a productive workforce. In the future, Pakistan could witness falling levels of income generation in terms of individuals and the state itself, with direct links to the current situation of hunger and malnutrition. Pakistan needs to do all it can to turn away from this grim trajectory. First, it is vital that food inflation be brought under control and social safety nets put in place. Second, as the World Bank suggests, Pakistan needs to increase its agricultural policymaking capacity — our spending on agricultural research is currently 30 per cent below that of Bangladesh. Finally, the state can launch a public awareness campaign exhorting and teaching citizens to grow their own produce wherever possible, perhaps providing seeds at subsidised rates. Concerted efforts and political will could achieve significant results.

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