‘Save Pakistanis from hunger resulting from price-hike!’

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The civil society, academia and the media representative of the country Friday demanded a reduction in taxes on the agriculture inputs, packed food items, coupled with effective price control mechanism to save people from food price-hike and the resultant hunger.
They put forward suggestions at a day-long policy forum entitled “Food Price Volatility and Policy Options”, which was jointly organised by Actionaid and Oxfam GB in collaboration with Pakistan Kissan Ittehad and Sustainable Agriculture Action Group (SAAG). They were of the view that the government should invest more in agriculture sector. They urged upon the government to come up with food security policy to ensure that 50% poor people get food and small farmers are protected. They cited the India Food Bill that has enabled 70% of rural and 60% urban Indian poor to get food on nominal prices.
Speaking on the occasion, Mahnaz Ajmal Paracha from Oxfam GB called upon all the stakeholders, civil society, media, consumers groups and academia to play their role and to check the price-hike. She said there was a need to bridge research, policy and its practice gap.
She said the food price hike was causing increased hunger and malnutrition in the country, especially among women and children. “It has been posing a threat to the economic recovery of the low income groups, reducing their purchasing power and thus risking their very social stability,” she observed.
She said households many were spending more than 65% of their income on food, cutting expenditure on non-food such as education and health.
Nasir Aziz from Actionaid said higher food prices hurt poor and their coping mechanisms. He said that based on the information gathered from the field level assessments from the ActionAid Pakistan Local Rights Programmes(LRPs), poor people had been suffering due to increase in staple food prices or reduced food availability.
“Poor families are now forced to eat cheaper foods with lower nutritional value, consume less food in meals or even skip meals at times,” he added.
Aftab Alam from Actionaid said it was alarming to note that during last three years prices of wheat flour had risen to 78%, while sugar price increased by over 160%, meat by 103%, pulses 89%, milk 85%, rice 44%, vegetable oil by 66% and vegetable by 39% and due to this price hike and hence millions of more people were plunged into abject poverty. “According to estimation, if prices go 10% high, 2.2% of population is trapped into poverty. He was of the view that our citizens protest against price hike of electricity and gas as they receive increased bill every month while they do not receive any formal monthly bill for their food,” he added. He called upon consumers to rise against food price-hike demanding a strong pro people price control mechanism.
Muhammad Amin, a government agriculture policy analyst, said the government through its resources was working on a support price mechanism to protect farmers from any price fluctuation impacts. He called for regulating the role of middle-men so that they could not exploit farmers. He also suggested for an enhanced role of agriculture extension services and credit mechanism to facilitate farmers.
Dr Shahid Zia, an expert, called upon the civil society to form an Independent Civil Society Commission on Agriculture to develop a long-term vision for agriculture and food price mechanism. He also suggested for sorting out, once and for all, the agriculture sector tax issue. He said small farmers having less than 25 acres of land should be exempted from any tax while tax can be introduced on the basis of land holding above 25 acres. He said the provincial governments can tax on different slabs such as 25-50 acres and 50 acres and more. Shafqat Munir, a policy analyst and campaigner, said there was a need for a social movement by all consumers to ensure that their demands for price control should not be politicised either by the government or the opposition for the sake of point-scoring.