KARACHI: The Musheers spend most of their income on food. Salman, who earns Rs20,000 a month as a teacher, gives Rs8,000 to 9,000 of it to his wife. “Still she is always asking for more” he said irritably. Mrs Musheer protests that when groceries cost Rs5,000 and meat costs Rs1,500, there is little left money over for anything else. “He expects me to support him in bills and the kids expect to get a good dish everyday” she said. The couple and their three children make do with occasional help from a relative who lives abroad, but Mrs Musheer complains that even extra cash is spent on buying food.
Rising food prices are affecting families across the socio-economic spectrum, as a sizeable portion of people’s earnings are spent on groceries. Professor M Iqbal Chaudhry from the International Centre at Chemical and Biological Sciences at Karachi University says delivered a lecture on the subject on Wednesday. He said that people in third-world countries spend half their income on food due to inflated food prices, while those in developed countries only spend about 10-15 per cent of their earnings on it.
“We are one of the very few countries in the world whose food consumption is decreasing” said Prof Chaudhry. The professor expressed the belief that agricultural biotechnology can help control costs, and that developing it in Pakistan is critically important. While Pakistan used to be nearly self-sufficient in food production a couple of decades ago, today it is ranked 49th out of 177 countries which import food. Due to the worsening situation in the country since the floods hit, Dr Chaudhry stressed the need to develop appropriate technology to grow crops. Genetically modified crops use special seeds, are pest and drought-resistant, have a greater yield and can be grown in the several months between the Rabi and Kharif harvests. While the professor believes that local farming practices should continue, he described the benefits of combing these techniques with modern agricultural practices to alleviate hunger and inflation.
While several research institutions are working on new methods of improving agricultural output, a lack of proper testing and approval processes has prevented Pakistan from utilising them. The country has lagged behind its developing counterparts in approving genetically modified cotton in the national assembly. Until new technology is implemented for food production, the use of sub-standard and smuggled seeds will continue, yields will remain low and food prices will continue to skyrocket.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2010.