Food security concerns
By Dr Mirza Ikhtiar Baig
THE food prices index around the world has surged to a new
height compelling a few countries of North Africa and the
Middle East to store wheat and rice in bulk. And governments
of Mexico, South Korea and developing countries of Asia are
paying huge subsidy to buy and store crops. It is also
feared that rising oil price may result in increase in
demand of food items. The Food and Agricultural Organisation
(FAO) has advised developing countries to avoid the option
of producing bio-fuel from corn.
According to a report, a number of developing countries have
used 120 million tons of cereal food as alternate source of
energy by converting it to bio-fuel paying huge subsidy of
$13 billion. Naturally, this will lead to rise shortages and
increase in prices which may create serious food shortage as
suffered in 2007-08.
To confront such eventuality, Pakistan will have to activate
research and development cells of its agricultural sector
and encourage the use of high yield seeds to improve
productivity so that it not only meets its domestic needs
but also boosts exports.
Though the present government, with a view to increasing the
income of farmers and curb smuggling of wheat across the
border, has increased support price of wheat to double from
Rs425 to Rs950 per maund, the move has resulted in increase
in wheat and bread prices.
The Director of World Food Programme in Islamabad has
recently described the wheat support price as the root cause
of price hike. According to a rough assessment, 10 per cent
increase in support price results in three per cent rise in
prices of food items. The 120 per cent increase in the
support price of wheat has resulted in an increase of 32 per
cent in the prices of its items.
On the other hand, the recent flood adversely affected
production of crops taking prices of food items to a new
height and creating sugar crisis which rose to Rs90 per kg,
but with cut in sales tax by 50 per cent, the price was
Since the government will not be able to continue this
subsidy for a long period, sugar price may go up again by
Rs10 per kg.
Experts are of the view that the issue of food security will
keep on nagging the world. Thank God, Pakistan is now a
wheat and rice exporting country. But then for tea and
cooking oil it has to rely heavily on imports.
Recently because of increase in fuel and power rates, food
items recorded an increase of 17 per cent. Government
sources said import of our food items recorded a rise of 74
per cent between July 2010 and January 2011, taking our
import bill to $3.15 billion. This trend is visible globally
and the uprising in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are its
Last year I visited the UAE, representing a delegation of
businessmen and met UAE Minister for Commerce Sheikha Lubna
Khalid Al Qasmi to discuss bilateral trade and investment.
She informed me that during the last GCC meeting the
question of food security in the Gulf countries was high on
their agenda and it was decided to purchase agricultural
land in other countries to produce and import food items for
the Gulf states. The UAE wanted similar arrangements with
I informed her that the UAE was already cultivating Alfalfa
in some parts of Sindh for export to UAE. In addition to
Pakistan, UAE is also cultivating fodder in Sudan, Spain,
Canada and some other countries.
Sheikha Lubna said the UAE was even ready to build small
dams for cultivation on the lands they would acquire in
Pakistan, provided the government ensured that there would
be no ban on export of these items.
In short, food security is common concern for both rich and
poor. Both developed and developing countries are therefore,
making long-term plans to meet their food requirements.
Pakistan is fortunate to have a vast fertile land and an
effective irrigation system. We are blessed with four
seasons and our farmers are hard working. All we need is
good network of transportation of farm products from field
to storage. We should also add value to our items and
improve packaging for exports.
Owing to huge increase in prices of agricultural products,
the farmers/agriculturists are supposed to have earned
additional Rs250 billion through cotton trade and Rs230
billion from wheat and rice. Unfortunately much of this
additional amount went to the pockets of the middlemen and
the big landlords.
The Director World Food Programme in Islamabad, Wolfgang
Herbinger in a report said that due to increase in food
prices about 70 per cent of flood victims in Pakistan had to
borrow money to meet their day-to-day needs. Pakistan is
producing food items in abundance but due to high prices and
poverty, the purchasing power of the common man is gradually
It is therefore imperative to review the agriculture policy
to attain autarky in food crops and provide essential food
items to the common man at affordable rates.
( The writer is advisor to PM on textiles )
Courtesy: The DAWN