Sugar goes sour


What to do about our perennial sugar problem, if anything at all? Well, conditions of international donor agencies seem to imply that we shouldnt do much. Just the day before, the government agreed to the proposal to end the role of the Trading Corporation of Pakistan in the import and supply of sugar. In effect, letting millers and wholesalers work the whole thing out themselves. This would then mean an end to the system of direct subsidies that the government gives for the commodity. All of this would be more in line with the neo-liberal principles of free markets.

Leftists, who are perhaps rightly, programmed to debate any such scheme of things, would find the current market position inconvenient for their arguments. For it seems that a substantive measure of the sugar price hike was, indeed, caused by the TCPs inability to offload sugar into the market in time. This is not, of course, to imply that the millers are not to be blamed at all. The millers have almost always hoarded the stock and will continue to do so until there is a system in place to check the practice. Taking the crack-down approach might initially draw public praise but always proves to be counter-productive as it messes up the natural order of the market. The system should be in place before the annual dance of the farmers, millers, government and wholesalers starts. Just because bureaucratic inefficiencies within a government body cause certain problems doesnt mean there is to be no regulation at all. That is, however, difficult. The sugar mill lobby cuts across the political divide. They are always in power and they always watch out for each other.

Finally, a word or two about keeping the things in perspective. First of all, though the current prices are abnormally high, there was much hue-and-cry in the media even when prices were comparable with that of the region. Secondly, though there is no excuse for allowing cartelization, this is, by no stretch of the imagination, a food crisis. Sugar is not a staple. Perhaps a review of diets is in order. Bangladesh, roughly the same population as ours, uses up roughly half the quantum of sugar we do. A problem, yes. One that disrupts our daily lives, absolutely not.