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National Conference on Right to Food 

20 Oktober 2011 01:09:03

National Conference on Right to Food

Food prices inflation: empty plates on rise risking 30m more to tally of poor

Provinces need to make laws to ensure food for those who cannot afford to buy

Food rights campaigners warned all provincial governments against food price inflation risking increase in empty plates amid fears of adding 30 million more to the tally of those living below poverty line.

“Act now to protect hungry and the poor from food insecurity, food vulnerability, land grabbing, denial of women’s right to land as it has a deep structural nexus with food security. The provinces should legislate to protect right of the people to food and acknowledge women working in fields as farmers,” said the participants of the conference. They called upon the governments that these laws must ensure that food reaches to every one who cannot afford to buy it from the market and do not let the market forces increase the prices of food for corporate greed. State is to check market excesses.

The stakeholders including farmers’ organizations, women farmers, academia, media and civil society put their demands at the first National Conference on Right to Food jointly organized by FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN) Pakistan Group, Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights (JDHR), Actionaid and Oxfam Novib, Dharti campaign, in partnership with Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI), Sustainable Agriculture Action Group (SAAG) and Infochange News and Features Network (INFN). They called upon the governments to control price hike with immediate effect.

Rukhsana Sham who moderated the session said the theme of the conference was ‘Together against Hunger- Ensuring food security through Women's Right to Land’. They pledged to continue their campaign pressing the governments until their demands are met.

The conference provided chance to women’s farmers to connect with networks of farmers and policy campaigners to ensure that women farmers are mainstreamed in national level networks, their contribution as farmers is acknowledged and the real producers of food have control over their produce for just and equitable distribution of the produce. A new research report ‘Food Price Hike: Empty Plates on Rise’ was also launched at the conference. Others Nourish S. Asia and Grow were introduced.

The women farmers from South Punjab in their testimonies demanded that they should be given land so that they can cultivate their lands and earn their livelihoods.

Speaking on the occasion, Tariq Mehmood from Pakistan Kistan Ittehad called for averting food crisis by stabilizing food production with greater investments in agricultural infrastructure to increase crop production and expand storage facilities, to better ensure grain produced is not wasted and to strengthen social safety nets.

Shafqat Munir, Convener FIAN Group Pakistan said in a country where almost half the population (48.6%) does not have access to sufficient food for active and healthy life, right to food has fast emerged as the most major challenge. Along with the issues of production, it is also a challenge of accountability of food governance and necessitates a mandatory legal framework where people can actually claim this right.

Aftab Alam from Actionaid said for poor families in Pakistan, who already spend more than 60% of their income on food, higher food prices further reduce their ability to pay for medical care and their children's education and if this trend goes on, the food crisis will badly undermine recent gains in poverty reduction.

Dr Wajid Pirzada said Pakistan recently faced three big disasters 2005 earthquake and 2010 and 2011 floods that literally rendered millions of more people at the verge of hunger. The floods have destroyed not only the crops but also seeds, cattle, smallholders land, and other means of livelihood of subsistence farmers and the poor living in villages and added around 30 million more to the bracket of vulnerable people, particularly women (in terms of food insecurity).

Majid Bashir, legal expert, said sub clause (d) of the Article 38 of the Constitution of Pakistan says: “The state shall provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief, for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment.” The floods have literally turned almost 30 millions into infirmity increasing their vulnerability and inability to earn their livelihood. So, in this situation, it becomes the responsibility of the state (federal and provincial governments) to provide them food by invoking Article 38 and making a law that enables such people to claim their right to food, he added.

“The Millennium Development Goal-1 itself is almost an obligation in regard to reducing by halve the number of hungry people. Similarly, Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition recognizes that Every man, woman and child has the inalienable right to be free from hunger and malnutrition to develop fully and maintain their physical and mental faculties and it is a fundamental responsibility of governments to work together for higher food production and a more equitable and efficient distribution of food between countries and within countries,” said Amjad Nazeer, Oxfam Novib.

Aalia Amir Ali from National Students Federation (NSF) called upon fighting against capitalism and feudalism to achieve people’s rights. She said despite Pakistan’s demonstrated commitment at International level including and obligation partially recognized in Article 38 of the Constitution, unfortunately, there is no legally binding mechanism through which the people can claim food as their right nor there seems any short or long term planning in this regard.

Samina Nazir, from PODA said food prices and food insecurity at the household levels have been on the rise over the past few years. Equal distribution, ownership, control and access to land are some important matters to be looked at while analyzing the state of social justice and human rights. Women are denied right to access, control and own land as only one percent women in Pakistan own land and in most of the case the control over their lands is in the hands of male member of her household due to patriarchal limitations. Sindh government has taken certain measures in this case but much is out there to realize the vision women’s access and ownership to land, she added.

Uzma Tahir from Actionaid said a number of efforts made by the civil society organizations have resulted in allocation of 0.1 million acre of land by the Sindh government to 4,196 peasants. Women make 70% of the total beneficiaries. The women who have been allotted land in Sindh face a threat of expulsion from their allotted land due to vested interest of feudal/landlords and farmers’ men as the land will be re-demarcated and re-allotted after floods are over.