The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2015


ISLAMABAD: Slump in exports, low levels of employment and income generation have lately become hot topics in Pakistan.

On the other hand, poor growth in indirect tax-payments and slippages remain a puzzling mystery.

These two simultaneous trends indicate that Pakistan is unable to come out of the spiral of inflation, poverty-proliferation and failure to increase income of the middle- and lower-middle tier of the population.

Subsidies, remittances from overseas Pakistani labour force, investment under public sector development programme, private charity and many other steps fail to help the low-income group become active partners in economic development. This participation is not possible without organic growth of the market.

Is the total amount of money generated through the above cited instrument too little when juxtaposed to the income-depleting/unemployment factors, or are these instruments mis-targeting?

This question is not pointedly asked by the economic analysts in Pakistan, because neither is there reliable data on the situation nor is welfare and poverty alleviation the major study subjects at the government and private levels as market-expansion factors.

The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) made public under the Musharraf regime carries five interesting observations.

Firstly, the paper observed, poverty increased in the 1960s despite a very high growth rate due to low employment generation and the declining real wage rate.

Secondly, decline in poverty levels was observed in the 1970s despite a low growth rate because of employment generation and focus on meeting the basic needs of the people. Thirdly, sharp decline in poverty, because of high growth and employment generation, occurred in the 1980s.

Fourthly, the paper observed a sharp increase in poverty and slowdown in growth due to macroeconomic shocks due to successive drought between 1999 and 2001 and rising unemployment.

Lastly, the paper noted, poverty in Pakistan is characterised by concentrated clusters around the poverty line, which suggests that there exists a high portion of vulnerable population that is likely to move in and out of poverty trap as a result of changing economic conditions.

This underscores the importance of looking at a range of factors around the poverty line for devising an appropriate poverty reduction strategy as well as for assessing the impact of policy changes.

Pakistan has yet to produce a better document on this issue, though the PRSP-proposed interventions neither took off nor produced any tangible results.

It can be safely deduced that the private sector has little incentive carry out a nationwide survey on the issue, whereas the government seems disinterested in targeting poverty as a market expansion mechanism.

The most important question in this regard is whether Pakistan will continue to suffer slumps and poor consumer activity if both the government and the private sector fail to undertake the mission of market expansion through a comprehensive programme.

And, what is this comprehensive plan? One need not be familiar with rocket science to uncover the causes of the slumps and to draw up official policy interventions to address them. All instruments in this regard should be activated.

Most important instruments in line are: tax-policy, subsidy, income generating funds, investment promotion steps and state-spending amounts. If one visits these five areas with intent to alleviate poverty while aiming for market expansion, simultaneous, one will not run short of effective action to counter the slumps.

Most critics suggest the government to reduce its spending in order to reduce the tax demand. This is a foolish suggestion and it should be re-articulated: the government should increase the development budget while decreasing the non-development budget by maintaining a rational taxation policy and administration.

Indirect taxation should be applied carefully, to prevent its impact on the lower and middle income groups. As such an impact can adversely impact market expansion and consumption, on a macro scale.

An investment policy that is free of bureaucratic bottlenecks and undue barriers should be implemented rather than offering money-whitening instruments at the expense of compliant tax-paying population.

The writer has worked with major newspapers and specialises in the analysis of public finance and geo-economics of terrorism.



The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2015.

LAHORE: The government on Tuesday launched the Punjab Khidmat Card programme for providing interest-free loans, free technical training and financial assistance to the disabled. The programme was inaugurated by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who distributed Khidmat Cards among a group of disabled persons.

“The Punjab Khidmat Card programme has been initiated to make disabled people useful members of the society. A sum of Rs2 billion has been allocated for the first phase of the programme. A total of 200,000 deserving persons will benefit from this programme,” he said.

He said that under the programme, Rs3,600 would be given to the deserving persons on quarterly basis. “A dignified procedure has been evolved for the payment of financial assistance. Deserving persons can receive this amount from all branches of the Bank of Punjab or ATM machines. Disabled persons are also Pakistanis and have the spirit to serve the country instead of being a burden on the society,” he said.

The chief minister said that through the Punjab Khidmat Card programme, the government was trying to help the disabled persons to stand on their feet and earn their livelihood through provision of financial help and technical training. “It will increase respect of disabled persons in the society and they will be able to play their role for progress of the country.

 Due care of disabled persons will be taken through the programme. They will be extended all out cooperation. This programme has been launched in 36 districts of the Punjab at the same time. Financial assistance will be extended to disabled persons in a transparent manner,” he said.

Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Ghaus Pasha said that it was the first time in the history of the country that such a programme had been launched for the provision of facilities to the disabled. “This programme will help in making disabled persons respectable, independent and important members of the society.

A centre for rehabilitation for disabled persons has been set up at Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital Muzaffargarh. The government will also set up such centres in other cities as well,” she said. Minister for Zakat and Ushr Malik Nadeem Kamran, Adviser on Health Khawaja Salman Rafique and Benazir Income Support Programme Chairperson Marvi Memon were present.

A high-level delegation from Sri Lanka, led by Minister for Public Administration and Management Ranjith Madduma Bandara, met Shahbaz Sharif on Tuesday.

Bilateral relations and promotion of cooperation in agriculture, education, health, tourism, skill development and public administration were discussed. The Sri Lankan delegation expressed keen interest in investment in hydel projects in the Punjab.

The chief minister said that Sri Lanka had helped the Punjab government in dealing with a dengue outbreak in 2010. “The people of province will never forget the cooperation extended by Sri Lankan doctors,” he said.



Dawn, January 1st, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Despite stellar economic growth and significant progress in terms of poverty reduction, inequality persists in Asia and the Pacific, and in some instances it has intensified, revealed a new UN report released on Thursday.

“Time for Equality: The role of social protection in reducing inequalities in Asia and the Pacific” report released by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) says growing disparities in income and wealth, as well as unequal opportunities, reinforce each other creating an “inequality trap” that disproportionately affects women and the most vulnerable members of society, including the poor, youth, persons with disabilities, older persons and migrants.

With the adoption of the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, policymakers and other stakeholders from the region have acknowledged that existing inequalities are having a powerful corrosive effect on the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development: inequality stifles the region’s economic dynamism; it undermines social cohesion and solidarity; and it hampers environmental sustainability.

The inequalities can threaten the region’s economic dynamism and sow the seeds of economic crisis by shortening the length of economic growth spells. Inequalities also have the potential of undercutting inclusive, pro-poor growth strategies and creating a middle-income trap, the report says.

Countries in the region would have achieved greater success in poverty reduction had not income inequalities increased along with economic growth.

Moreover, household debt and balance of payments deficits are more pronounced in countries with higher inequality, further jeopardising economic stability, it says.

It is increasingly recognised that there is no automatic trade-off between growth and equality; that market-led growth alone is not enough to achieve sustainable development; and that redistribution has a positive impact on economy. It is in the context of a growing consensus concerning the positive role of redistributive policies that social protection has come to the fore.

Governments in Asia and the Pacific are strengthening their efforts to broaden social protection coverage, and 21 out of 26 developing countries in the region for which data are available recorded an increase in social protection spending as a share of total government expenditures during the past two decades.

Despite this increased commitment and the strong evidence showing the positive contributions, social protection has on individuals, households and society, important social protection coverage gaps remain, the report points out.

More than 85 million children under the age of five are chronically malnourished; 18 million children of primary school age are not in school; and nearly 20 million births are not attended by skilled health personnel.

More than one billion workers in Asia and the Pacific are in vulnerable employment, characterised by low wages, few benefits, limited job security and often hazardous working conditions.

Only 30 per cent of persons above the retirement age receive an old-age pension; an estimated eight out of 10 workers are still not covered by a pension scheme.

Out-of-pocket health expenditures in the region are among the highest in the world; 80 per cent of the population has no access to affordable health care.



Dawn, January 1st, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif launched on Thursday a state-run health insurance programme and described it as the first step towards making Pakistan a welfare state.

Initially, the initiative has been launched for the benefit of people of Islamabad, but later on it will be expanded to all parts of Punjab, Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), according to officials.

People of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will not benefit from the initiative because their governments have declined to become part of the federal government programme.

Titled the “PM’s National Health Progra­mme”, the scheme has been launched in 15 districts of Islamabad in the first phase and will be expanded to 23 districts in the second phase. Around 1.2 million families will get free healthcare facilities in the first phase.

At the launching ceremony, Mr Sharif said that under the programme, people living below the poverty line would be able to get best possible treatment at government’s expense.

“I wish those provinces which are not part of the programme (Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) also join the scheme. It is not a matter of politics…,” the prime minister said.

He said the programme would benefit 3.2 million families living in Punjab, Balochistan and Fata in its two phases and a social mobilisation campaign would be launched to ensure registration of all deserving people under the scheme.

“People sell their property and household items for medical treatment of their loved ones, but this will not happen anymore,” he said, adding that the government would take strict action in case of complaints of corruption and wrongdoing in the scheme.

Mr Sharif praised the efforts of Maryam Nawaz and State Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Saira Afzal Tarar for the programme’s preparation and launching.

Most countries in the region, including Afghanistan, have started health insurance programmes on the recommendation of the World Health Organisation.

About 55 per cent of Pakistanis earn less than $2 a day and the government has decided to provide health insurance cover to all such people in phases and the data of the Benazir Income Support Programme will be used for the purpose, according to an official.

About the scheme, NHS Secretary Ayub Sheikh said: “We will learn from our experiences in Islamabad and will ensure that the programme is error-free and transparent whenever it is launched in other areas of the two provinces and Fata in the next phase.

“As soon as a patient is admitted to a hospital, a representative of the State Life Insu­rance Corporation (SLIC) will pay him/her a visit and when the number of patients crosses 15, another SLIC official will be sent there.”

The secretary said the Ministry of NHS would also use a separate monitoring system to ensure transparency in the programme.

“Because of this scheme, the people will be able to get the best possible treatment with respect and honour,” he added.

An official of the ministry said that medical insurance usually costs Rs25,000 per year, but the government would have to pay Rs1,300 for each family. “A family will get Rs50,000 for secondary care treatment which begins as soon as a patient is hospitalised.

“It includes all kind of diseases. According to our estimates, members of a family get admitted two or three times a year and Rs10,000 to Rs15,000 is spent each time,” he said.

“We have negotiated the charges with the hospitals and they will charge only Rs12,500 for delivery of a child and each family can get treatment of Rs250,000 under the category of priority diseases,” he said.

“Treatment of cancer, accidents, burns, diabetic complications, heart bypass and infection… will be insured under the priority diseases category. So each family will get treatment of Rs300,000 per year and the amount will be doubled in case of emergency. The amount will be contributed by the Pakistan Baitul Maal,” he said.

He said that under the programme, special cards would be issued to families for insurance which would be activated as soon as they were issued.



The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2016.

As a nation, Pakistan is in chronic poor health. Primary healthcare services delivered by the state or provincially, fall far below the needs of the populations they serve, and private healthcare is the first port of call for those who can afford it.

Many millions cannot. Rural areas are particularly poorly served (as they are with every other public amenity). Thus we welcome the rollout of a national health insurance programme that will target the poorest of the poor, those living on $2 a day or less which is around 60 per cent of the population — at the same time recognising that this is a very small beginning.

Initially, the scheme will cover around three million families who will get health insurance in 23 districts, and the ultimate goal is to cover 22 million households countrywide. There are already subsidies for healthcare in many public hospitals, but health professionals acknowledge that patient loads are often beyond capacity and even modest public health targets cannot be met.

The government has already admitted that it has missed by a mile the UN targets for mother and child mortality rates that were part of the Millennium Development Goals that culminated in 2015. The reasons for the failure stem from poor service management and abysmally low spending on health services generally. Between July 2014 and March 2015, the government spent a miserly 0.42 per cent of GDP on health.

On a possibly positive note, the scheme is to spread across both the public and private sectors and will be run in partnership with provincial governments, an arrangement that is as yet untested. Elsewhere in the world, public and private healthcare rarely form synergetic relationships, the American healthcare system being an example of that.

That said, something is better that almost nothing and any programme that expands the envelope of public healthcare has to be positive. None of this is going to happen at the flick of a switch and the system will take time to come on stream and it is far too early to predict its success or otherwise — but we wish it good health.




Dawn, December 22nd, 2015


ISLAMABAD: The National Economic Council has admitted that “one in every three Pakistanis still does not have regular and assured access to sufficient nutritious food”.

In its annual report for the financial year 2013-14, recently presented before the National Assembly by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, the council blamed the “poor performance of the agriculture sector in recent years” for the situation.

In the report, the council termed the five-year plan (2013-18) as first operational part for implementation of the government’s Vision 2025 which covered targets and performance indicators.

According to Mr Dar, meeting the nutritional needs of people required making agriculture growth more pro-poor.

For that a well-developed non-farm sector was important in order to generate employment, ensure income diversity and reduce poverty.

“Achieving this will require strong linkage between farm and non-farm sectors through promotion of agro-business activities in addition to provision of basic health and education facilities.”

According to the NEC, the only solution to the problem is procurement of wheat under a more rational programme to provide adequate quantities of subsidised wheat or flour to the most food insecure consumers through well-defined and explicitly targeted interventions.

Renowned economist Dr Ashfaque Hasan Khan said the issue was not as simple as explained by the government.

When the government talks about increase in the support price for wheat or other main crops, it means it has no sustainable policy in its mind.

Dr Khan, who had been the government spokesman on economic issues from 1998 to 2009, said successive governments focused their agriculture policies on wheat, rice, cotton and sugarcane crops, which formed only 30 per cent of the value-added agriculture production, by offering support price.

As a result wheat price in the country was 30 to 40pc higher than in the international market.

According to the report, the major challenges which the government was struggling to meet to achieve growth include shortage of energy, security, inadequate supply of water and unavailability of skilled labour.

The economic team led by the finance minister has presented a list of interventions — overcoming the social deficit by setting up a comprehensive social protection system and providing significantly better quality education and health services — to meet the immediate challenges and to ensure that the people of Pakistan have strong stake in the development process for nation building.

The NEC report laid emphasis on redirecting resources to accelerate growth in less developed areas and regions through ideas developed and implemented by them within the plan framework and to reduce disparities in human development.

It called for designing public policy to achieve better distribution of income and wealth and to ensure that incremental incomes were now more evenly distributed than in the past.

The NEC suggested reinventing the role of government at all levels by dispassionately analysing what works and what does not work, so as to accelerate economic development and provide better-quality services.

It emphasised the need for putting in place innovative vehicles for economic development such as public-private partnership as well as strong private sector involvement and making strategic interventions which might help utilise the underutilised natural resource reserves and devise ways to overcome the gaps and imbalances holding back development.



The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2015.

The National Economic Council (NEC) in its annual report has admitted that “one in three Pakistanis still does not have regular and assured access to sufficient nutritious food”.

On current estimates of the population (which is growing at over two per cent a year), that is almost 67 million people. This goes beyond food insecurity and is an indicator that not only do people have no assured supply of food every day, the food that they do get may be of poor quality, adding another layer of deprivation.

The NEC blamed the poor performance of the agriculture sector in recent years, which is a considerable over-simplification of the picture.

The problem of poor nutrition is complex and links to a range of other problems that have a synergetic circularity, each feeding into the other as a perfect storm of dysfunctionality.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, commenting on the report, said that meeting the nutritional needs of many millions meant that agriculture had to be made to be more pro-poor — a statement of the blindingly obvious if nothing else.

And here is the rub. For that to happen, there needs to be a linkage between farm and non-farm sectors and particularly through agri-business and, crucially, the provision of basic health and education facilities. Without especially the latter items, the farm and non-farm sectors are not going to develop diversity and employment, thus reducing poverty and — hopefully — nutritional values at the same time as reducing food insecurity.

Basic health and education facilities are deficient or a

bsent across much of rural Pakistan and according to the NEC, the immediate sticking-plaster solution is to import more wheat, which will be supplied at subsidised prices to those that are the most food insecure.

All very well but not sustainable. The finance minister has proposed “a comprehensive social protection system” with improvements to health and education services at the core — but we have been here before. Improving either is dependent on improving power provision and water, to say nothing of political will, which is far from guaranteed. A lot of people are going to be poorly nourished into the foreseeable future.



Dawn, December 23rd, 2015

THE finance minister acknowledged the widespread incidence of malnutrition in Pakistan the other day, but missed the point in presenting remedies for the problem.

The annual report of the National Economic Council, placed before the National Assembly by Mr Ishaq Dar, says that one out of three Pakistanis “does not have regular and assured access to sufficient nutritious food”.

The words in which the problem is identified immediately betray a lack of awareness about malnutrition and how to study its incidence.

The report goes on to suggest that the “poor performance of the agriculture sector in recent years” is responsible for this situation, and that the remedy must, therefore, be in making agriculture growth more “pro-poor”, that is by diversifying the base of incomes and creating more linkages between the farm and non-farm sectors.

If the authors of the report had studied the literature on malnutrition in Pakistan, they would have realised that increasing the supply of food, or producing greater rural incomes will have only a marginal effect on nutritional outcomes.

The latter are more closely linked to social variables such as female education. They could have taken, as an example, a report published in the Lancet Series on Maternal and Child Nutrition in Pakistan in 2013, which found that half of all children in this country are chronically undernourished, and a quarter of all children are born underweight.

These are staggering numbers, and the vulnerabilities they create to disease aggravates the problem further. In a list of remedies required to arrest the growth of these numbers, the authors had mentioned steps such as marrying girls at a later age, greater awareness of prenatal health, improved health programmes to give women access to trained birth attendants, targeted safety nets in rural areas, empowerment of women, early childhood development programmes, and so on.

Malnutrition can occur widely even in areas of food abundance, and should not be just linked to incomes.

By taking such a narrow economic view of malnutrition in Pakistan, the finance minister has revealed a poor understanding of the problem, and has gone on to identify a flawed set of policies as the remedy.

When the Lancet study was launched back in 2013, the Planning Commission was represented at the event, and promised that its findings would be incorporated in Vision 2025 to guide the government’s approach to long-standing problems. Sadly, this does not appear to have happened.




Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, December 14th, 2015


FEDERAL Minister for National Food Security and Research Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan stated on November 21 that a national food security policy was in its final stage and would be announced soon after a consensus was forged among all stakeholders.

The core objective of the policy is to reduce the current food insecurity situation by 50pc by 2030 and to bring down the poverty and food insecurity to zero level by 2050.

The draft of the policy which sets out ‘a vision and a goal for agriculture and food security, along with a set of policy directions’ has been uploaded on the website of the ministry for comments and suggestions from the members of parliament and other stakeholders and will later be presented before the National Assembly for debate and approval.

The draft, it says, would facilitate the provinces to formulate their own policies and strategies as well as formulate investment plans for both the public and private sectors because, after the passage of the 18th Amendment, the development of agriculture and ensuring food security has become their responsibility.

The minister’s statement gives an impression, to the uninitiated at least, of the policy being a recent development. But, to one’s surprise, the posting date of the draft on the ministry’s website is January 11, 2013. It means the 23-page draft was prepared by the previous PPP-led government with the help of, as it says, experts of the ministry, its attached research organisations and was supported by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The PML-N government, coming to power after the general elections, did not disown the draft, nor made any tangible efforts to implement it.

There has been no explanation from any quarters as to why the implementation of the policy has been delayed. However, the federal minister said last month that his ministry would soon conduct a survey to collect data on food security situation in the country. The sample would include 20, 000 individuals from rural and urban areas.

Meanwhile, the title of the policy has been changing during the last three year period. While Mr Bosan calls it ‘national food security policy’ the original draft posted on the website describes it as ‘agriculture and food security policy.’

On many occasions, it was called ‘national food and nutrition security policy’ and was published in the press accordingly. At a function in Islamabad on April 22, 2014 President Mamnoon Hussain also described the policy as ‘national food and nutrition security policy’.

An SDPI study recently pointed out that the policy draft, with its two components, i.e. agriculture and food security, is silent on many issues related to food security; rather its primary focus is on agriculture development.

The policy draft says that central focus of the policy would be on achieving sustainable growth in the productivity of major crops as well as the promotion of high value agriculture. Hence, the policy aims to increase the economic access to food for the socially deprived communities of the marginal areas.

Meanwhile, Rajab Ali Khan Baloch, parliamentary secretary of the ministry of food security, was quoted recently to have stated that “the policy draft being discussed at various levels is the agriculture policy and food security and nutrition policy is one of its components and it is not all about food security.”

He separates the issues of food security policy and the famine in Thar, saying deaths in Thar were not due to an absence of a national policy or lack of food. Ironically, there were abundant stocks of wheat with the provincial government in Sindh at the time of the famine.

Regarding role of the provinces, the draft points out that some provinces have started work on preparing of provincial polices, strategies and investment plans. However, the provinces, it says, still need ‘an overall national vision and direction for agricultural development to ensure that synergies are maximised and overlaps are minimised.’

Mr Bosan reiterated last month what his ministry had stated a year ago. He stated that a national food security council is being set up to help resolve contentious issues between the federal and provincial governments arising from passage of the 18th Amendment.

Prime Minister of the country will be chairman of the council and various federal ministers its members. The original news item was published on August 17, 2014. It shows how some policy matters are announced at top level but not pursued even after lapse of a year.

It was amazing to observe two leading farmers bodies in Sindh demanding in their December 6 joint session return of agriculture sector to the centre ‘in the interest of the national economy’. They expressed total dismay over Sindh’s attitude towards the sector and farmers.



Dawn, December 16th, 2015

NAIROBI: Global trade talks opened on Tuesday with host Kenya highlighting their role in combating poverty, and urging African nations to diversify their economies.

War-torn Afghanistan and Ebola-ravaged Liberia are set to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as it holds a ministerial conference in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, its first such meeting on African soil.

Leading experts have doubted the meeting’s chances of breathing new life into current trade talks, but Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta still called gathering “historic and crucial”.

“This conference will boost trade and investment, create employment and ultimately contribute to poverty eradication,” he said in a welcome message.

He also stressed the need for African countries to diversify their economies.

“National, regional and multilateral policy choices that we make will matter,” Kenyatta said. “The choices and positions we take will have consequences.”

Security is tight for the conference, with some 6,000 delegates in Nairobi.

Kenya has been hit by a string of attacks by Al-Qaeda’s East Africa branch, the Somali-led Shebab, but last month hosted Pope Francis, while in July, US President Barack Obama visited.


The 10th WTO ministerial meeting comes two years after the organisation’s member countries reached a landmark deal in Bali on revamping global customs procedures.

The 2013 pact was the first multilateral agreement concluded by the WTO since its inception in 1995, and also the first concrete progress since the Doha Round of trade liberalisation talks began.

“We took 18 years to deliver our first multi-lateral agreement in Bali, that’s way too long, we can’t wait another 18 years to deliver again,” WTO chief Roberto Azevedo told reporters Tuesday.

But there are few signs that countries will be able build on the momentum gained in Bali to carve out even a limited deal in Nairobi.

“I think if we go out of Nairobi with renewed confidence and with a common vision for the future that will be a fundamental achievement,” Azevedo said.

Insiders say negotiators will focus on trying to nail down a partial deal focused on agriculture export competition and trade development in the world’s poorest nations, but admit the chances of succeeding are shaky at best.


“It will attempt to deliver on the elusive agreements of the Doha Development Agenda, and deal with controversies over agricultural subsidies and market access for developing countries,” the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) think tank said.

“However, despite previous efforts, scant progress has been made and a breakthrough at Nairobi seems unlikely.”

WTO deputy director David Shark was more upbeat, saying it was hoped that deals would be struck on agriculture, export subsidies and food security, and that there would be a debate on the nature of international trade.



Food trade key against world hunger: FAO

Dawn, December 10th, 2015

ROME: Expanding trade in agricultural products is key to alleviating world hunger, but only if open trade policies do not endanger food security, the UN food agency said in a report released on Wednesday.

Trade affects all dimensions of food security: food availability, access, utilisation and stability, the report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

“The eradication of global hunger by 2030 is a key goal in the new post-2015 sustainable development agenda — and trade is one of the means for achieving this goal,” the FAO said.

World trade in food and agricultural products, which has grown almost three-fold in value over the past decade, is set to continue to expand with regions such as Asia, North Africa and Middle East increasing net imports, while others like Latin America boosting exports, the report said.

“The challenge has therefore become one of ensuring that the expansion of agricultural trade works for, and not against, the elimination of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition,” stated the report The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2015 (SOCO).

It aims to show the link between trade and food security and reduce the polarised views on the subject providing guidance on government trade policy, the FAO said.

“Trade affects many of the economic and social variables that ultimately determine a population’s food security and nutrition status — including growth, incomes, poverty levels, food prices and government budgets,” it said.

While trade in itself is neither a threat nor a panacea, it does pose challenges and risks that need to be considered in policy decision-making.

The report cited such risks as relying on the global marketplace for imported food which could see sudden price hikes and also leave the importing country vulnerable to actions by trading partners and short-term market shocks.

Still, the report concluded there is no “one size fits all” for a trade policy that supports food security. It suggests that trade and related government policy will differ by countries and will change over time as their economies develop.



The Express Tribune, December 10th,  2015.

ISLAMABADPakistani authorities need to take immediate action to achieve the targets of zero hunger in the country, rather than wait till the deadline of 2030, cautioned Lola Castro, representative of the World Food Program (WFP) in Pakistan.

She was addressing a session on ‘Food Security in Pakistan: Current Situation and the Way Forward’ at a four-day international conference in Islamabad.

 “A large chunk of Pakistani population has no access to food despite the country having sufficient production,” said Castro, adding the problem occurs mostly to the poorer segments of the society during disasters.

She underlined the need to improve management systems ensuring the delivery of cheap food to each segment of the society.

Castro pointed out that Pakistan’s cost of agricultural produces is comparatively higher in the region.

Talking about subsidies, she emphasised the need of having a target subsidy for smaller farmers rather than subsidising powerful and big farmers.

 “South Asia is a major contributor of stunted population in the world with Pakistan, India and Bangladesh among the top ones, respective governments must therefore take steps to overcome this challenge.”

“It is surprising that a country producing almost 26 million tons of wheat has a portion of its population food insecure and with stunted children,” she stated.

Discussing the high prices of agriculture inputs in Pakistan, she pointed out the need for policy reforms to bring Pakistan’s agriculture products competitive and focus on diversification of crops.

Malik Zahoor Ahmed, National Coordinator of the Zero Hunger Program at the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, said that there is need for public-private partnership to overcome the challenge of malnutrition and hunger in the country.

He nevertheless accused the current and subsequent governments for sidelining agriculture in both research and policy.

“Large quantities of food are wasted due to poor storage mechanism,” said Ahmed, linking the high prices and resulting unavailability of food to extremism. Patrick Evans, chief of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, said that Pakistan’s high population growth rate is also one of the key challenges.





The News, December 04, 2015

Sohail Khan

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday observed the government was duty-bound to provide the poor and destitute with shelter, and ordered the enforcement of the constitutional obligation pertaining to life, liberty and the dignity of man. It said it would pass an appropriate order if the government failed to provide shelter to low-income and destitute people in the country.

A two-member bench of the apex court comprising Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Qazi Faiz Isa resumed the hearing in identical petitions, filed against the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and police action in the Katchi Abadis of Sector I-11 in the federal capital.

“It is the responsibility of the state to ensure the enforcement of constitutional obligation by providing proper shelter to low-income families living in the slums across the country,” Justice Dost Muhammad Khan observed during the course of the hearing. He observed that the court would ensure the constitutional obligation mentioned in articles 9, 14, 25 and 38 of the Constitution and if the government failed to ensure it, it would pass an appropriate order.

The court in its order ruled that for the last four months since August, it issued various directives to the government were given from the government side regarding any mechanism to be evolved for the people living in slum areas of the country.

It further observed in its order that learned Additional Attorney General Aamir Rehman stated that a meeting on the matter concerned held the other day under the chairmanship of Secretary Ministry of Housing and attended by four provincial secretaries.

The court, however, noted that nothing and meaningful was brought on the record about making legislation in order to provide permanent residents to the low-income citizens.

It was further ruled in the order that the concerned committee is required to conduct a survey throughout Pakistan about slums in urban and rural areas where flood caused loss of lives and destroyed properties and crops.

The court observed that the mushroom growth of housing schemes without any proper planning wherein green belts were utilised for constructing houses as a great set back to the agriculture sector on which mostly the country relies. Therefore, the court ruled that the concerned committee should be tasked to evolve a framework for a unified law and to devise a policy for poor people to provide plots based on a model design.

The court summoned in-person, Attorney General for Pakistan along with secretary of Ministry of Housing, chairman Capital Development Authority (CDA), four provincial secretaries of the concerned Ministry as well as secretary Finance Division on the next date of hearing. The court ruled that these officials are required to state as to how much they could contribute to provide shelter free of cost to the destitute and low-caste people living across the country.

The court further directed that the concerned officials should also ensure submitting of a comprehensive report on guidelines so that it could pass an appropriate order in the matter.

Adjourning the case until first week of January, 2016, Justice Dost Muhammad Khan observed that if the concerned ministers work sincerely on the issue, they could mobilise the international donors during their foreign tours for generating funds for the relocation of people living in slums across the country.

The international donors if convinced can contribute billion of dollars for the purpose”, he remarked.Earlier, during the course of hearing, Justice Dost Muhammad Khan observed that Katchi Abadi in I-11, earlier razed by the CDA, 20 percent dwellers there were labouring in the nearby fruits markets or in some other weekly bazaars while the rest of 80 percent people of the slums either male or female are working at the houses of the officials of CDA and police whose spouses are not accustomed to work.

Abid Hassan Manto, the petitioner, informed the court that recently during the Local Body’s election held in the federal capital, people, displaced from I-11 came and participated in the elections, casting their votes. He further said that some two to three dwellers got elected as counselors as well.




The Express Tribune, November 18th, 2015.

ISLAMABAD: Chronic malnutrition among women of child bearing age is one of the major reasons behind 750,000 preterm births recorded every year across Pakistan.
Dr Saima Rizwan, Health Specialist, Maternal and Child Health at United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) while talking to The Express Tribune in connection with World Prematurity Day which is observed every year on November 17, said, “a malnourished mother ultimately gives birth to a premature baby due to poor health condition. Adequate maternal nutrition is critical for foetal development.” Pre-term birth is defined as a live birth before the full 37 weeks of pregnancy are completed.

She said malnourished mothers suffer from micro-nutrient deficiencies such as iron deficiency which leads to anemia while iodine, vitamin A, folic acid and calcium deficiencies among others render them unable to deliver healthy children well on time.
However, Dr Rizwan further stated that there are also numerous other reasons which could be attributed to preterm births in Pakistan such as early child marriages, domestic violence, severe stress, lack of antenatal checkups, unskilled birth attendants among others.
“In Pakistan majority of adolescent mothers give birth to premature babies mainly because they are unaware of nutritional needs during pregnancy, importance of antenatal checkups and quality care required during delivery of a premature baby” she said.
Globally, fifteen million babies are born preterm each year and over 1 million children die before their fifth birthday from related complications. Pakistan, India and Nigeria account for more than 60 per cent of the total number of babies born prematurely each year and 50 per cent of deaths due to preterm complications according to a statement issued by UNICEF.
“It is estimated that the survival of around 85 per cent of premature babies could be ensured if they receive quality care at home such as initiation of early breastfeeding,” Dr Rizwan said, adding that usually a premature baby grows up facing lifelong disabilities like hearing, visual and learning impairments.
She also highlighted acute shortage of skilled birth attendants and community mid-wives (CMWs) in the country.
Meanwhile talking to The Express Tribune, Director Nutrition in the Ministry of National Health Services, Dr Baseer Khan Achakzai, said Pakistan is among top 10 countries with 16 per cent premature babies which is alarming.”