Issues in food inflation
By Latha Jishnu
is going through an economic impasse.
The macro figures are not
tallying with the requirements of the nation.
Policy elites sitting in
various forums are unable to diagnose what is going on. Much
of the food inflation is due to ossified infrastructure.
It's the dead that are
running this country through policies devised in the early
The institutions that were
then devised were based on the colonial knowledge that was
brought forth by the British. This is not going to work.
The other day a PhD in soil sciences from a local university
came to discuss issues with me. I was appalled at his
ability(s) not to answer basic questions. An understanding
of soils is basic to productivity in the sector.
Productivity it may be mentioned can only be worked into the
system for the control of inflation if its growth is roughly
twice the size of the growth of population. The added
variable is the urbanisation that is going on at the moment.
This urbanisation is dead capital for it is being used not
for any positive economic activity but is used for
converting black assets into white. If these new urban sites
are visited the mismanagement is colossal.
Sites that were providing subsistence living for the poor
have been purchased by these investors.
Some of us feel that this is good growth but in the long
term it is some thing that will distort the economy to such
an extent that there will be no come backs.
In other words the loss of this land to agriculture is
absolute. Roughly by the last satellite-based study about 3
million acres have been lost to urbanisation.
These days to cover the
criticism that is heaped on them they have started talking
of 'Greening' the areas. There is no such thing that would
replace the existing food requirements.
With the population growing
at something like 3% there will be pressure on resources and
there is nothing that the policymakers can do about it.
With limited knowledge
productivity cannot be enhanced. When such a situation
develops then the need is to go for a radically different
One solution does not fit all the issues in agriculture.
Since it is site-specific the policies for Punjab will not
be suitable for Balochistan and other areas of Pakistan.
Yet the food security of this
country will be dependent on the policies that are devised
for Balochistan for that is where the land resources are
available for inefficient agriculture to continue.
In Pakistan's vocabulary
there is no such thing as efficient use of resources. Our
agriculture is inefficient in as much as we are not using
our resources optimally.
Our water usage is only 10%
efficient at the farm level and in conveying the water to
the farmer we have a logistic line that is thousands of
miles long through the canal system.
We lose about 50% of the
water through this conveyancing system. Efforts were made to
change this in the nineties but that ended up in a fiasco.
The use of inputs is equally
inefficient. The more one uses this artificial input system
the more one has to use the next year.
Some put it at more
than 10% increase. The fact is that for the last six decades
we have used chemical fertilizer and in the process the
lands have become toxic.
Now there is a need to
rethink and re-engineer our thought process. That means that
we will be thinking in terms of liberal economics.
There are a lot of misapprehensions about neo-liberal
economics as coming from the West. All that it requires is
that the country decides on the alternate to existing
policies that have not delivered.
No where do the liberal
policies suggest that the country should follow any policies
of the West. That would be suicidal. Pakistan does not have
to ape the desires of the West.
Neither does it have to go in
for Monsanto's policies on GMOs. The problem with Pakistan's
policymakers or takers is that they do not apply their minds
to the issues at hand.
They are virgins so far as
knowledge is concerned. Knowledge generation is another
matter. So why dig very deep for we are surface people and
if you scratch us we will have blue blood in us.
Our blue blood never realised
that books were important. Go through Muslim history of the
subcontinent to verify this statement.
So what is it that we require to feed our own people? Wheat
is considered the food security item in the subcontinent and
that is where the story ends regarding wheat for food
In the 1960s Ayub Khan's government became hostage to the
Americans and we were provided by PL 480 regime with free
We got hooked on to it and
that is what they wanted because they wanted a market for
their mid-USA wheat to be sold somewhere in the world and
what better place than the subcontinent. We continue to be
So what are the variables involved in productivity
enhancement. Without which we will never be able to manage
the inflation in food items. Already the inflationary burden
is obviously very regressive.
All these armchair economists
that have read massively books on Western systems are unable
to fathom what is going on. Just as a reminder there are at
least 53 variables that impact on the sector.
So the possibility of error
is large. That means that the policymakers and their cohorts
are to take decisions in a sector in which they are both
blind and deaf. To talk to these idiots is to be in touch
with egos bursting with egoistic thought.
So where is the solution? There are no hard and fast
solutions and the need is to make mistakes and to improve on
their abilities by making fewer ones and to have the ability
to strike a balance that is based on science as well as
insight, intuition and probability skills.
I am afraid that will not
come easy to Pakistani policymakers because they are by
functional reasons weak and unable to take responsibility.
The premise generally is that
there are no shortcuts. That everything is possible. When
seeds were sent to the salt range there was speculation that
sugarcane would not grow.
One took a risk. Sugarcane is
now growing under saline conditions and the water is more
saline than seawater. So where is the explanation? In the
holy world that we have inherited there are no holy cows and
everything is to be tested.
But if you chose to stay in
the Islamabad area and do not understand the requirements of
the rural sector than that is how it is going to be.
The impact of this is already visible in the turbulence that
we are seeing in the social systems of Pakistan; every
aspect of social up for grabs. That does not make for good
It does; however, seem to make for a crisis-ridden nation.
Policymakers do not understand the current dharnas and the
inqilabi march. These are manifestations of hate for the
government in power and for the political system that
delivers only for themselves.
Try something different so
that neo-liberalism comes into play. Sindh is going to come
in to play on the same basis soon. Other provinces will
demand that they be treated fairly by the federal
Federation by itself teaches
you the ability to listen more than to keep blabbering on
about things that are not relevant and in any case not true.
Living in truth matters. Agriculture productivity is