Looming food crisis

Some of country’s prime agricultural areas are struggling with drought since last year, situation may be exacerbated.

Zahrah Nasir August 03, 2012
Looming food crisis

With America struggling to cope with the worst drought in 56 years, the situation in 2007-2008 was nothing compared to what is happening right now; the global food market is liable to head into serious trouble, which is a cause for concern all round.

Essential crops of basic commodities such as wheat, corn and soya beans have been decimated right across the agricultural heartland of America. This is causing prices in the international food market to surge more rapidly than they did in 2007-2008, when high prices and shortages resulted in food riots in at least 30 countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Cote d’Ivorie, Egypt, Morocco, Bolivia, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Bangladesh and South Africa. Unsurprisingly, some governments actually collapsed as a direct result of this global unrest.

Pakistan did not escape unscathed either: food prices rose to an astronomical degree and the government was blamed for taking a lackadaisical attitude towards ensuring food security for the population; most of which struggles to make ends meet on incomes way below the recognised poverty line.

This time around, the situation is liable to be far worse. Here in Pakistan, some of the country’s prime agricultural areas have been struggling with a drought since late last year and the situation is liable to be exacerbated by, so far, way below average monsoon rains. And if they arrive at all now, they will cause much devastation, having implications on a variety of fronts.

It is all too easy to dismiss or completely ignore — as the government is in the bad habit of doing — the potential implications of escalating global food prices. This escalation is caused by a combination of three main factors: the American drought and associated crop failures, the rising price of oil and the largely uncontrolled financial speculation in commodity futures — the latter being the ‘thing’ to invest in for fast profits ever since the collapse of equities and mortgage bond markets.

Here in Pakistan, agriculture is in a state of increasing disarray; prices of essential basic commodities including wheat, rice, ghee/cooking oil, lentils, fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products are increasing on an almost weekly basis. The majority of the population of over 180 million has to spend at least 75 per cent of their meagre incomes on food. Further increase in price and shortages, with the latter always resulting in hoarding and profiteering, are liable to cause a massive civil unrest — an unrest which has been simmering away under the surface for a very long time now. The situation is so serious now that the Pakistan Economy Watch (PEW) has recently asked the government to take emergency steps on the food security front and accomplish this before the impending global food crisis reaches the critical levels expected in the very near future.

This is a problem that should have been anticipated by meteorological departments worldwide. Strangely, however, it was expected by financial speculators who invested trillions of dollars in food. Unfortunately, ignoring the crisis will not make it go away and it is hoped that the government pays heed to the warnings and does something, now.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2012.


Manoj Joshi - India | 11 years ago | Reply

The food crisis in South Asia that includes not just Pakistan but even India, Srilanka, Bangladesh etc has been on account of the low intensity of the monsoons and in many parts scanty rains on account of it. The writer has made a comparison between America and Pakistan wherein I share my view which is in agreement along with disagreement on the subject. Zahrah Nasir has, probably overlooked the fact that Pakistan and the entire South Asia enjoys a Monsoon type of climate wherein rains occur only during a specified part of the year unlike America or Europe that enjoys summer rains and winter rains hence there is no such specific season called the rainy season as there is in South Asia. Hence in case the rains fail or are below normal in other words scanty the crops tend to fail. In India, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat have suffered on account of this natural calamity. Pakistan too is no exception as the geography and climate is similar to that of India. The Federal Government of Pakistan like the Government of India needs to take serious measures to check drought within their nation which certainly is not going to be easy. Food prices will be on the rise and the general masses shall be hit hard. However if the rains continue there is a possibility that the situation with regard to the food crisis may improve marginally or to an extent that is better than the worst. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka besides Bhutan and Nepal if need be can and must if feasible hold a dialogue with regard to the looming food crisis. The Chambers of Commerce within these nations can play and important role in framing a strategy or policy that can help the nations within South Asia to atleast sail out of the impending food crisis. Before the calamity strikes if remedial measures can be worked out then, South Asia can to some extent be saved from the crisis. As has been stated by the writer that America is facing a drought this year hence expecting help form that part of the world would not be a prudent thought. The SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) can work on the subject and prepare an agenda in this regard. The Governments of all the SAARC nations can and should if need be sit together and frame a policy of joint working. The joint working does not signify any sort of political or economic weakness of any country but will prove a United Front against this calamity of food crisis. Time should not be wasted and a fast action is required to be taken preferably by the nations of South Asia jointly with proper coordination and understanding.

Ahmed | 11 years ago | Reply

This is could be a very bad situation for Pakistan. One of the worst things to happen this year to us. We just cannot keep on ignoring things like improving irrigation, land reform, better agricultural techniques, population growth. Of couse there are more important issues for us than a drought as I see only 4 comments.

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