LAHORE: Eminent global economist Dr Atif Mian said the reason Pakistan had the largest rates of malnutrition and stunted growth in children was because it adopted an inequitable growth process where divisions were extremely unequal, those going hungry were not given income opportunities to sustain livelihoods, and that these issues won’t be resolved unless the playing field was levelled to some degree.

He made these remarks on Saturday in a session he attended virtually, titled ‘Food Insecurity and Threat to Livelihoods: how can Pakistan learn from the Sri Lankan experience’, at Asma Jahangir Conference.

Dr Mian said the core issue in terms of food security wasn’t food per se, but it was linked to the questions of democratic rights, opportunity, equal treatment and access to opportunities for all citizens. “The basic fact of global food supply is we have abundant food available given the demand. Why humanity faces food security issues isn’t a lack of availability, but a reflection of deep dysfunction in society.”

It is important to bring everyone’s voice to the table for solving problems of food security, he added. He observed that a high risk that was underappreciated in case of Pakistan was fragility of its macro-economy when it came to exposure to potential liquidity crisis. “The economic cycle Pakistan faces periodically is because of deliberate policy choices made in the past, a consequence of which is we face mega risks of not meeting our export obligations because we don’t produce enough to sell enough to the world,” he concluded.

Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the founding executive director of Sri Lanka’s Centre for Policy Alternatives, said food inflation in his country was 95pc – people didn’t have the ability to have three square meals a day, nutrition levels were plummeting to the worst in the world, children were fainting in schools because they didn’t have enough to eat and then problems with medical supplies.

“The Rajapaksas didn’t create the situation but just made it a hell worse, and what particularly compounded food insecurity was deciding overnight to move from chemical fertiliser to organic. It devastated the food supply chain. They also stubbornly refused to go to the IMF and used foreign exchange to pay creditors, so we couldn’t import food,” he explained.

The deputy ambassador of the Netherlands, Lianne HWS Houben, shared how Pakistan and Sri Lanka had a very high inflation in common as well as currency devaluation, high external debt, political instability, both suffering from effects of climate change.

Veteran economist Dr Kaiser Bengali said there were two aspects to food insecurity: affordability and availability, adding both were politically determined.

“The state has to be pro-people, and function for the people. A lot of acreage is dedicated to sugarcane, which isn’t needed at all, but only feeds certain political families. It also gets subsidies from the government, which is public money, thus creating budget deficits. The governments haven’t cared about creating jobs, but consistently killed them instead,” he explained.

Published in Dawn, October 23th, 2022

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