No more political point scoring, reduce food prices: Policy Forum
Flour price rose by 78%, sugar 160%, meat 103%, oil 66, vegetables 39%
Civil society, academia and media representative Friday demanded reduction of taxes on agriculture inputs, packed food items coupled with effective price control mechanism to save people from food price hike and hunger.
They put forward suggestions at a day-long policy forum on “Food Price Volatility and Policy Options” jointly organized 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 enables 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 stakeholders, civil society, media, consumers groups and academia to play their role and create critical mass to check price hike. She said there is need to bridge research, policy and practice gap. She said the food price hike is causing increased hunger and malnutrition, especially among women and children, threats to the economic recovery of the local people, reduction in purchasing power of people thus risking their social stability. She said households are 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 based on the information gathered from the field level assessments from the ActionAid Pakistan Local Rights Programmes(LRPs) poor people suffered due to increase in staple food price 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.
Aftab Alm from Actionaid said it is alarming to note that during last three years prices of wheat flour rose 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, millions of more people were plunged into poverty. He said 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 called upon consumers to rise against food price hike demanding a strong pro people price control mechanism.
Mr Muhammad Amin, agriculture policy analyst from the government, said the government through its resources provides support price mechanism to protect farmers from any price fluctuation impacts. He called for regulating the role of middle-men so that they cannot exploit farmers. He also suggested for an enhanced role of agriculture extension services and credit mechanism to facilitate farmers.
A senior policy expert on food and agriculture, Dr Shahid Zia called upon 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 to sort out once 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, policy analyst and campaigner said there is a need for a social movement by all consumers to ensure that their demands for price control should not be politicized either by the government or the opposition for the sake of point scoring. He said opposition instead of becoming part of solution becomes part of problem to fan hatred against sitting governments for their vested interests while the governments do not take people’s voices seriously considering it a conspiracy against them by the opposition. “Price hike is not political, it is a national issue of policy formulation. Each political or administrative force is responsible to control price hike. They need to take the issue up as a national issue and not a political stunt against each other,” he added.
The participants as consumers expressed their concern saying kitchen expenses have raised to more than 50 % in the last few years, basic utilities such as electricity and gas are not available, expenditures are high but the incomes are still the same. They say there is no match between ratio of food price hike and their income.