economics and poverty
By Mohammad Tariq Janjua
Poverty figures short of the semantics reveal a gruesome
picture. The Economic Survey mentions that there are 32 per
cent poor in Pakistan. While the poor are 22 per cent in the
urban, and 39 per cent in the rural areas.
difference could be attributed to the policies and
interventions which have pitched the terms against the
Economic reforms and deregulation have left each to the
vicissitudes of market forces sans mercy. Farmers have to buy
all inputs at market prices, be fertilizer, pesticides or
machinery as all subsides have been withdrawn by the
government or are in the process of withdrawal.
Traders add to the burden through manifold manipulations. Not
even a small finger is raised to protect the weak farmer
against the financially powerful trader and 'arhties'.
To the contrary the trade of agricultural produce is hemmed in
by price and non-price barriers. While the poor farmers in the
rich OECD countries get direct support of the US $300 billion
every year, the poor farmer in Pakistan has to provide succour
and support to the industries and the urban population through
low-priced agricultural produce and cheap food.
It is not the rich but the poor from the agricultural sector
who carry the albatross of food security on their emaciated
bodies and have done so for the last 57 years of our
One glaring manifestation of the injustice is witnessed in the
implementation of the Wheat Support Price Policy. For several
years the open market price of wheat has been lower than the
support price at harvest time. Yet the government was
deliberately slow and measly in buying wheat to support the
farmer. The poor farmer unable to hold or hoard, was selling
Comes 2004, a rarity, when open market prices were higher than
the support price. But this time the Punjab government
compelled the farmer to sell wheat to the government at Rs350
Shafi Niaz calculates that the farmers of Punjab were made to
lose Rs2,625 million on compulsory procurement of 3.5 million
tons of wheat @ Rs 30per 40kg. This is a conservative estimate
considering that the open market price was Rs400 and the loss
to the wheat growers only in Punjab is actually more, around
Transfer of resources has been a regular feature in the past
as in the case of compulsory procurement of Basmati for
exports. One could list such instances ad nauseum.
In the last few years the farmers suffered because the
governments did not procure when the farmer was seen to sell
to the government at the support price and this year the
government has discriminated by compulsory procurement. In
either case the spirit and objectives of the support price was
The people of Pakistan are reaping the harvest of half a
century of such policies in the shape of rampant poverty and
despair. This 14th of August came in the midst of too many
grim and gloomy dings. Next morning the nation woke up to more
Some 18 young men single-wheeling on motor-cycles, order into
the valley of death. And two girls lost their nerves and
surrendered to death at an age when youth flowers and the
entire Universe is so beautiful.
Why had these two young girls to take their lives? Perhaps
life had become an endless drudgery and they could face
poverty no more. Their deaths were neither noticed nor
lamented nor even an elegy written.
Any society with a semblance of conscience or compassion would
have moaned and groaned and even wept and cried for deaths so
young. But not a ripple was caused in the egocentric, callous,
heartless society which is mine and yours in this Land of
The civil society and the liberal conscience which produce
voluminous literature on humanitarian issues and articulate
their sentimentalities on poverty could not be stirred out of
post-buffet lunch slumber.
Our heart goes out to the poor parents of the girls who died
so young. May be it was our cruelty and lack of concern which
pushed them to death. They were so poor that they could not
live. These girls lived and died in the heart of the agrarian
The same area which has produced food for all. Pakistanis
could not give food to its own daughters. These girls are no
more, mere digits in the statistics and their deaths will have
no impact on the number of poor, be it 40 per cent of the
populace (or 32 per cent by government reckoning).
We do not dispute the substantial amount of over Rs200 billion
earmarked for poverty alleviation by the government in the
highest ever PSDF and the Federal Budget. We are even willing
to believe that there will be a miracle and implementation
will be without pilferage or wastage.
With the highest growth rate in recent past, with all positive
macro indicators, how come there is an unending addition to
some 50 million poor. We had claimed that no Pakistani goes to
sleep on empty stomach. Alas, no more. We have touched yet
another depth of abysmal despondency and hopelessness.
Time to ponder and reflect: Is there any impact of the massive
dosage of funds or is there none? The bitter truth is that the
Poverty Reduction Strategy is not working, reducing poverty by
giving alms to the poor, will take us nowhere. Let us feel the
tremors before the debris comes falling down on us.
Bereft of the provincial/parochial angles, the fact of the
matter is that poor farmers have been the target of adverse
returns enforced by the government. It was a providential
opportunity in 2004 to reduce poverty in the rural poor by
allowing them market returns on their produce. The opportunity
has been missed by the government.
The prime minister should now commit and endeavour to make up
to the farmer for the past be it wheat, rice or sugarcane
grower. Let Mr Shaukat Aziz reach out to the poor and be
remembered for his empathy with the poor.
No amount of doles or fancy policy paradigms will alter the
misery of the down-trodden. Only farmer-friendly policies
ensuring reasonable returns for their sweat and their produce
can reduce poverty and curb urbanization.
The decision should be made now and before wheat sowing
starts. The government should be gracious, nay generous, in
fixing the support price for next wheat crop, as it has been
to the car manufacturers, and should go beyond what
Agricultural Prices Commission has recommended because the
Commission has been far too conservative all these years.
In the past whenever the government was liberal in fixing the
support price, the agricultural sector has responded by giving
high growth. Otherwise it is que-sera sera for the poor and on
to the next donor-funded workshop on poverty in a five-star
hotel for the assembly of enlightened communicators.