Pak officials counter UN criticism of high food prices in flood-hit country

March 25th, 2011 - 4:45 pm ICT by ANI  

Islamabad, Mar 25(ANI): Responding to criticism from the United Nations over exorbitantly high food prices in Pakistan, Food Ministry officials have said that lowering wheat prices would create food shortages in Pakistan and encourage smuggling.

The UN World Food Programme played an important role in distributing food in Pakistan after last year’s floods, which damaged acres of arable land.

The WFP said on the sidelines of humanitarian meetings in Geneva on Wednesday that while the crop outlook in Pakistan was not bad, the government had set food prices too high, resulting in rise in malnutrition in the country.

Malnutrition levels in the southern province of Sindh had reached 21 to 23 per cent- well above the African standards, according to the WFP.

But an official at Pakistan’s Food Ministry told the BBC that farmers would simply switch to more lucrative crops if the wheat prices went down.

An official at the Food and Agriculture Ministry said on the condition of anonymity that lowering prices would do little to help the situation, and also warned that much of the crop would end up in the hands of smugglers.

“Low farm-gate prices lead to lower acreage of wheat crop as farmers switch to other crops and it works as an incentive for smugglers seeking international prices in the neighbourhood,” he said.

“It is nearly impossible to stop smuggling across the Afghan border, which is extremely porous,” he added.

So if the prices are lowered, the official said, the risk is that they would eventually rise even higher than the level they are currently set at.

Pakistani officials also say that malnutrition in Sindh province is not a new phenomenon and is unrelated to the food supply.

“Government statistics show that food consumption has not gone down despite the doubling of food prices since 2007-08,” said Kaisar Bengali, advisor to the Sindh chief minister.

He said that the lack of public hygiene facilities and safe drinking water were more important factors in child nutrition.

“These are neglected areas, and there has been hardly any development in the public health sector here in decades,” Bengali added. (ANI)

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