GENEVA: Pakistan’s government has pushed food prices too high for an impoverished population, as malnutrition levels rise despite the recovery of crops after devastating floods, a UN food relief official said on Wednesday.
Wolfgang Herbinger, director for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Pakistan, said food crops, especially wheat in the southern flood-hit plains were recovering fast with the prospect of decent crops over the coming weeks. “The crop outlook is not bad but the food security situation remains difficult because prices remain so high,“ he told journalists on the sidelines of humanitarian meetings in Geneva.
“The government is the biggest buyer of wheat in Pakistan they are setting the farm gate price and they dominate the market,“ Herbinger explained.
“That’s why the wheat price in Pakistan didn’t adjust when, for example, in 2009 and early 2010 the wheat price had gone back a lot, it stayed high to the detriment of local consumers.“
Now ordinary consumers pay double the price for wheat compared to three years ago and the food security situation has “changed dramatically,“ the WFP official added.
Malnutrition levels in the province of Sindh have reached 21 to 23 per cent, according to the agency. “That is well above African standards. The emergency standard is 15 per cent,“ the WFP official said.
A recent survey found that in some flood-hit areas 70 per cent of people were taking out loans and even using them to pay for food.
Herbinger admitted that the WFP was “struggling a bit“ to bring the message across to authorities. “You may have the country full with food but people are too poor to buy it,“ he explained.
“We are working a lot with the Ministry of Agriculture to explain to the minister that it is not enough to have enough production in the country if people can’t afford it.“
“Maybe for political reasons he doesn’t always understand it, that it’s one thing to be nice to the farmers but if your consumers can’t afford it then…there’s something wrong with agricultural policy,“ Herbinger added.
Massive floods caused by monsoon rains in July and August 2010 killed thousands, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land, experts have said.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2011.