An article by Muhammad Boota Sarwar published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Food for All is the main theme of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) but the people living below poverty line are increasing day by day due to price hike and rising un-employment and estimated to cross 40% of the population, majority living in rural areas. Pakistan has given national commitment to fulfill obligations under MDG.

Provision of Food for All is state responsibility in accordance with Article 38 (d) of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan but such assurance never materialized in the history of the country.

Although some poverty alleviation programs were launched by various governments and present Benazir Income Support Program is one of them, but such efforts are delivering little as no comprehensive National Policy has been formulated to ensure “Food for All”. There is no legal protection to such schemes and no surety of continuation after regime change.

Contrary to the state of affairs in Pakistan, the Government of India is seriously taking the issue of “Food for All” and to ensure regularity and continuity of food distribution among needy and the “Food Security Bill, 2010” has been approved by the Indian cabinet on 18th December, 2011 and placed before the parliament today for legislation.

The Food Security Bill, 2010 is meant to tackle widespread malnutrition in India with food subsidies for two-third of the country’s 1.2 billion population. The government’s Congress party-led coalition has a majority and the multi-billion dollar project has a good chance of being passed into law ahead of elections in the poor, politically important state of Uttar Pradesh early next year. The subsidy plan is likely to find broad support from the opposition parties.

Last year, the Indian government spent $12 billion, or 1 percent of GDP, on that program. The planned subsidies double the cost of an existing program that sells cheap grains and pulses to nearly 180 million poor families.

Voter anger at high food prices has damaged the popularity of Singh’s Centre-left government in a country where 40 percent of its population lives below the U.N. poverty line. Existing food subsidy programs are plagued by corruption, with only a small proportion of the grain reaching the intended beneficiaries.

Rural welfare schemes helped the ruling Congress party and allies return to power three years ago. The new bill will provide subsidized grain to 75 percent of people in the countryside and half the urban population deemed too poor to eat properly. A total of 810 million people could benefit.

The food security bill and other welfare orientated laws are backed by Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, who heads the party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh. The Gandhis are seen as being politically to the left of Singh.

The Food Ministry is assuming grain purchases at around 30 percent of output for the new Food Bill, relying on increased yields and lower wastage to cover extra requirements and keeping exports on the agenda. But it is still not clear how 30 percent of all grain output could cover 810 million beneficiaries.

India, the world’s second-biggest rice and wheat producer, aims to grow 186 million tons of these grains in the crop year that began in June 2011. In 2010/11, output was at 181.25 million tons. The extra annual requirement for rice and wheat under the draft law will be at least 45.6 million tons, calculated on a monthly outlay of about four million tons.

This new Indian initiative is in addition to heavy subsidies already being given for agricultural production, storage, distribution and export; and certainly it will impact the competitiveness of Pakistani Agriculture amid MFN status for imports from India.

In this context it is appropriate to suggest that our Parliament instead of wasting time on non-issues should come up with solutions for real issues of the common men and enactment of “Pakistan Food Security Law” is one of the burning issues to address the following aspects:

1. Ensure clear legally binding commitment of “Food Right for All”.
2. Provide legal protection and continuity to existing food distribution and food support schemes including Benazir Support Program, Sasti Roti and other future schemes.
3. Establish Food Security Fund at Federal and Provincial levels to finance food support programs in comprehensive way.
4. Devise mechanism for transparency and control of rampant corruption in such programs involving the stakeholders and the civil society.
5. Include special support programs for small farmers working under marginal farming conditions and rural workers especially poor women to diversify food production and farm income.
6. Launch research and subsidized seed supply schemes for small farmers that are suitable for sowing in saline soils, in low-moisture areas, in temperate regions and in low fertility lands including supply of seeds fitting in organic farming regime and kitchen gardening.
I am working on developing an initial Draft of “Pakistan Food Security Law” for further refinement and consideration by the policy makers, stakeholders and civil society in line with the above said parameters. Suggestions by the friends in this respect are welcomed.

The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.

About the Author:
Muhammad Boota Sarwar is writer and researcher on right to food issues and poverty. Email: msarwar80@hotmail.comFacebook:

Document ID :AHRC-ETC-003-2012
Countries : Pakistan
Date : 01-02-2012