KARACHI: Land concentration in a few hands is directly responsible for why a vast majority remains devoid of secure access to food. The state of malnutrition is intrinsically linked with land ownership.
These were the conclusions drawn at a Dialogue “Food Security Interventions: A Dialogue on the Missing Links” organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research in Karachi, at a local hotel on Friday.
Haris Gazdar (Collective for Social Science Research), Dr Aly Ercelan (Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum), Iqbal Detho (Save the Children), Professor Praveen Jha (Jawaharlal Nehru University), Karamat Ali (PILER) and Dr Arif Alvi (Member National Assembly, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) spoke on the occasion
The Dialogue sought to review the current crisis of food insecurity in Pakistan and the missing links in the interventions from the state and the donor and development sector. Pakistan presents one of the most dismal states of malnutrition in the world, with half the population still not having secure access to food, according to a WFP report. Fifteen percent of children are severely malnourished, and 40 percent suffer from stunted growth. The province of Sindh is further down the malnutrition link.
Karamat Ali of PILER pointed out that Pakistan’s democracy is “content-less” with the government becoming blatantly pronounced that it has no responsibility towards its people. The most important sectors of health and education have largely been given away to the private sector. The state has, very swiftly, abdicated its responsibility of providing basic necessities to people. He said that citizen’s capacity to resist the state has not only declined, it is now taking another form where people are forced to turn to violence to make themselves heard. “And this state pays attention only when the citizens pick up arms.”
Iqbal Detho, Provincial Manager Advocacy Save the Children, shared useful statistics on the state of food insecurity in the country. He said that Sindh lags behind the entire country in a number of food deficiency indicators. The proportion of underweight children is 50% in Sindh, while it is 44% in Pakistan; 50% children are suffering from stunting in Sindh while the ratio is 44% in Pakistan; over 40% of children are underweight in Sindh while the figure is 32% for Pakistan. He said that despite food being a basic human need and a human right, the Article 38 of the constitution, which outlines state’s responsibility of providing basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief has still not been made a part of the fundamental rights section.
“The Article is included in the Principles of Policy section, that links it to the condition of the state having adequate resources to provide access to these necessities”
Haris Gazdar, Senior Researcher from the Collective for Social Science Research said that food security does not merely involve food consumption. Food absorption is an equally important element which depends much on the quality of water, sanitation healthcare etc. He said that the agriculture sector employs 45% of the labour but contributes just 21% to the GDP.
This shows that while a large majority of the working population is associated with the agriculture sector, they are merely working as laborers and enjoy no access to this resource in terms of ownership. It is the same population that suffers from malnutrition and access to basic services. The disproportionate relation is very well reflected in the state of disempowerment seen in the country.
Gazdar disagreed that Pakistan is moving towards industrialization. “The textile sector is most dominant in Pakistan and it is completely dependent on agriculture.” He observed that the society’s patriarchal structure has affected women’s consumption and absorption of food. “Women are not only working, but they are also being denied the nutritional requirement that is needed when an individual is engaged in heavy duty work. They are responsible for child bearing and raising children which further compromises their food consumption.
Dr Aly Ercelan of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum said that there is a valid case for minimal distribution of land to the rural landless for owner-farming to achieve a minimal nutritional standard. The per capita requirement of land, to ensure adequate opportunity for food production, is 0.5 to 1 acre. “Right now, those who grow or those who catch fish do not have access to their produce. It is the middleman and the market actors that reap the benefit of their hard work.”
Professor Praveen Jha, of the Jawaharlal Nehru University said that in terms of food security, India continued to have an alarmingly high level of Global Hunger Index right uptill 1990s, which stood at 32. It has now come down to 21 which is still very high. However, the overwhelming majority of hunger affected population is the working poor. He highlighted landlessness as one of the fundamental issues behind food security. The new Food Security Act does not provide adequate coverage to the vast majority of the malnourished population.
Responding to a query, Professor Jha said that there is a need to reconsider the entire order of the WTO. “India achieved a partial victory at the WTO when it succeeded in winning the concession to provide subsidy on staple food crops without any threat of punitive action. However, the amount of subsidies provided by the developed and the developing countries continues to remain highly disproportionate.
Dr Arif Alvi of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf said that food security is linked to a number of issues including inequality and corruption. He said that asset distribution played a very significant role in the economic boom experienced by China as it raised the ownership of the people in the social and economic structure of the country. He said that land reforms introduced by the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Government were the most balanced one and the PTI supports the idea of resource distribution for an equitable society.
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