‘Pro-poor growth strategies must for food security’
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is gripped by poverty crisis, which has already driven people to acts of desperation and increasing food production alone will not ensure food security unless the destitute have enough income to buy the food they need, former minister, Sartaj Aziz, said this while delivering a lecture on "Food Security for the Poor" organised by Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF).
Aziz said an average agricultural growth rate of at least 4 percent per annum in the next decade - 2010-2020, implementation of a pro-poor growth strategy and provision of non-farm employment on a substantial scale is mandatory to achieve food security in the country.
In Pakistan, he said, the level of poverty had declined from 34.4 percent of the population in 2001 to 28 percent in 2005-06, but the high food inflation in the last three years increased this ratio to 33 percent once again, pushing at least 11 million people below the poverty line. According to the recent study conducted by Beaconhouse National University Institute of Public Policy, if no policy action is taken in the current trend then an additional 22 million people would be impoverished over the next four years.
Aziz said building a transparent and well-managed system of safety nets to provide income support to very poor households and evolving an efficient and equitable system of food procurement, storage and distribution were also a must for the food security to the poor. He said that Pakistan has so far not evolved a comprehensive national food security strategy. He said it was indeed unfortunate that during the last few years the level of food security of the people of Pakistan has fallen. As an example, he said, the level of wheat production in 2007-08 was the same as that attained almost a decade ago while the population has increased by almost 20 percent.
Former finance minister said that food security has, in fact, been low since 2001-02, which was a consequence to low food production levels and relatively higher inflation in food prices. Given the underlying conditions of food security, he said, it was difficult to visualize simultaneously the reported fall in incidence of poverty, particularly in the face of declining food affordability.
He said the task ahead of restoring food security is indeed a challenging one. But with a democratically elected government in place there was already evidence of a return of the policy focus towards agriculture. Better prices (especially of wheat) were being offered to growers, taxes on agricultural inputs have been withdrawn, a large subsidy had been given on phosphate fertilizer and more public investment is being diverted towards rural infrastructure. He said a good start had been made but more needed to be done in terms of improving the functioning of agricultural markets, maintaining reserve stocks promoting agricultural research and extension and increasing investment in the water sector. Simultaneously, he said, plans for cash transfers to the poor as food support need to be implemented quickly.
He said efforts to increase rural population's access to land and livestock and to enhance basic education opportunities are critical to increasing the level of agricultural output, improving nutrition, and the alleviation of poverty. According to the World Food Programme Survey for the Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping Unit, as many as 77 million people up to March 2008 are deemed "food insecure", where the food insecure population is defined as those consuming less than 2350 calories per person per day. staff report