Editorial - Gold and grain - Friday, March 25, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=38022&Cat=8

Food seems to have become as precious a commodity for ordinary people as gold is for others with more means. The director of the World Food Programme in the country, Wolfgang Herbinger, had earlier warned that while a reasonable crop of wheat can be expected this year, people will not be able to buy it. This is a direct result of government policies that set the prices of food. As the largest buyer of wheat in the country, the price is determined by what the government pays farmers. While it has seemed eager to help these farmers, the people who consume the wheat appear to have been forgotten. The WFP believes this is one of the reasons why food prices in Pakistan did not fall in 2009 and 2010 as they did in the rest of the world at the same time. The consequences of the peoples’ inability to buy food have been made very clear over the past few months. A survey from Sindh showed rates of malnutrition were higher than those in Sub-Saharan Africa and well over the WHO emergency level of 15 percent. The accounts we hear of suicides, domestic violence and all kinds of other evils are also in many ways a direct result of the growing desperation and frustration of people. The lack of employment and the absence of a social safety net of any kind add to the risks they face on a daily basis. We hear now that the problem has grown so acute that people are taking out loans simply to be able to buy food. As the WFP official points out, a good supply of grain in the country serves no purpose at all if people lack the means to purchase it.

What is ironic is that while the WAFP has picked up this issue and is now attempting to persuade the ministry of agriculture to reconsider its policies, a government elected in the name of the people, did not itself realise that rapid food price inflation had quite literally brought people to a point where starvation is a real possibility. Such a callous attitude is hard to even imagine. The government needs to re-evaluate what it is doing and consider what the impact of these policies will be on citizens everywhere. As things stand, their plight is worsening by the day. While the recovery of crops after the devastating floods of 2010 is obviously a good omen, it means little if prices of wheat and other essential items are to be fixed well beyond the reach of the people. We must do everything we can to ensure food is within the reach of every citizen.

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