Make food a constitutional right: experts

June 3rd, 2008 - 2:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, June 3 (IANS) The right to food should be enshrined in the constitution to protect millions of vulnerable Pakistanis from soaring food prices, a group of experts has urged. At the conclusion of a week-long forum Monday on the food crisis, organised by ActionAid Pakistan’s Sustainable Agriculture Action Group, the experts and representatives of civil society organisations also finalised policy proposals for the government, including substantial support for 72.1 million Pakistanis or 44.4 percent of the population.

A fact-finding committee that surveyed 22 districts suggested urgent measures, including a ban on the export of rice, wheat and other food items till a reasonable level of strategic reserves was achieved.

“The forum called for a substantial increase in food subsidies in the budget,” Dawn reported Tuesday.

The government had last year allocated Pakistani Rs.1.8 billion for food subsidies but this comes to a mere Rs.2 a month for each of Pakistan’s 71 million “chronically poor”, the newspaper noted.

Representatives of the ministries of food and agriculture, the Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute participated in the discussions.

They stressed the need for land reforms, saying this would provide a cushion to over 100 million Pakistanis (about 67 percent of the population) who live in rural areas and depended on agriculture.

Criticising the government for its inability to provide soft-term loans to farmers, the participants said most farmers were unable to afford agricultural inputs like fertilisers and seeds and needed direct government intervention.

The participants also urged the government to revamp agricultural research centres to prevent farmers from being exploited by multinational corporations.

They pointed out that Pakistan’s fertiliser sector, which was the monopoly of military-run businesses, received heavy subsidies in oil and gas but continued to fleece farmers, affecting the agricultural production.

They called for progressive taxation, saying the government needed to lessen its reliance on indirect taxes that places an excessive burden on the poor.

“They said the government should work for wealth creation and income growth, instead of making the poor subsidise the rich under its regressive tax regime,” Dawn noted.

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