This year the world’s staple food prices have soared to the highest level in three decades, leading to a major food security threat in developing countries like Pakistan.
According to World Food Programme (WFP) officials, food security in Pakistan is an issue of inaccessibility rather than unavailability. Many people simply have no means to buy food, keeping in view their low levels of income.
Although this year Pakistan produced sufficient food – 24.2 million tonnes of wheat, which was more than the requirement – food insecurity still prevailed.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations celebrated World Food Day 2011 on Sunday across the world under the theme “Food Prices: From Crisis to Stability” — highlighting the challenges facing the world due to price hikes. The FAO states that currently there are over 1 billion hungry and food insecure people around the world, out of which 98% live in the developing countries where food production needs to double by 2050 to feed their growing populations.
Science and Technology Ministry Secretary Akhlaq Ahmad Tarar said that rapid economic growth, population pressure and tight global markets are some of the major reasons behind food price hikes. Today, 925 million people in the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition, it was revealed.
In Pakistan, 62% of the rural population is engaged in agriculture directly or indirectly, and the share of agriculture in exports is 60%. It provides employment to about 44% of the labour force and contributes about 21% to the national gross domestic product (GDP). This sector is not only providing food for 177 million people but it also feeds more than 160 million livestock and provides raw material for all agro-based industries in the country.
Meanwhile, President Asif Ali Zardari expressed concern over widespread malnutrition and rising deficiency of micronutrients such as iron and vitamin A in Pakistan.
“This alarming situation needs urgent attention of nutritionists, health experts as well as planners. Food approach to combat micronutrient deficiencies is the cheapest and effective solution to it.
“Our scientists should devise seed and crop management technologies in pulses, vegetables and meat production, along with cost-effective post harvest management to make the more nutritive and high-value food items at consumer affordable prices,” he said.
The price hikes
This year’s State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report, published on October 10, warns that high prices are likely to continue and food price volatility may increase over the next decade — primarily because of more frequent extreme weather conditions.
FAO Director General Dr Jacques Diouf said: “Natural disasters such as droughts and floods are hitting key producing regions that hike prices further and agriculture cannot respond fast enough with the increased food production because of long-term under-investment in research, technology, equipment and infrastructure”. According to the WFP, every 10 per cent increase in the price of the food basket costs the agency an additional $200 million a year to buy the same amount of food.
Dr Diouf in his message stated: “If we are to seriously address the issue of world hunger, more effort has to be made to address the problem of food price fluctuations, particularly for those who spend most of their incomes on food, to ensure that they can return from the market with enough for their families to eat nutritiously”.
Edited by Musab Memon
Published in The Express Tribune, October 17th, 2011.