Costly food

It is essential to view the rise in food exports not just as an economic opportunity but also as a policy challenge

February 20, 2024


The surge in exports of raw food products in Pakistan, as evidenced by the more than doubling of export value to $787.36 million in January, raises several economic and socio-political concerns. While the export growth appears to signal a thriving food industry, this trend is accompanied by a 27.4% rise in food inflation, causing local consumers to bear the brunt of higher prices for essential food items.

The principal reason behind this export surge is a weakening local currency, which can make locally produced goods cheaper for foreign buyers. However, this advantage for exporters contrasts starkly with the growing unaffordability of these same goods for Pakistani consumers. The situation is especially concerning for basic food items like meat and rice, where significant price increases have occurred in the past two and a half years. Furthermore, the government’s decision to import wheat despite claiming a bumper wheat crop highlights the mismatch between production and consumption. This could suggest policy failures in agricultural management and import planning. The export boom may have expanded meat exports into new markets like Jordan, Egypt and Uzbekistan, but this does not directly benefit local consumers who are grappling with inflationary pressures.

It is therefore essential to view the rise in food exports not just as an economic opportunity but also as a policy challenge. The government must balance the interests of local farmers and consumers while exploring ways to increase the efficiency of the food supply chain. This could include initiatives to improve production, distribution and price stability, as well as policies to safeguard food security. Solving these issues requires a coordinated effort from policymakers, the agricultural sector and other stakeholders to ensure sustainable development and the welfare of the Pakistani population.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2024.

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