Case Of Pakistan: Critical Issues

Pakistan planners and policy-makers recognised the significance of the food supply constraint as far back as early 1960s. Encouraged by the results of the green revolution of the ‘60s with a breakthrough in wheat and rice production and the successful completion of the country’s Second Five-Year Plan (1960-65), attainment of self-sufficiency in food was accorded the highest priority in the national development programmes. Thus, the 3rd Five-Year Plan (1965-70) aimed at achieving food-sufficiency by 1970. At the same time, a comprehensive family planning programme was launched to bring down the rate of population growth. Failure of public policy on both these counts is evident from the continued dependence on food imports over the years and the rate of population around 3 percent per annum which is among the highest in the world.

It is vitally important to keep in view the experience of the last decade and a half which covers both the good and bad years in this respect, before discussing the country’s future prospects. During the ‘70s, stagnating supply of domestic food production necessitated importation of 1 million to 1-1/2 million tons of wheat annually costing about Rs 2 billion to the government exchequer on subsidy. Due to some improvement in the domestic production during the first half of the ‘80s, reduction in food gap was reflected in wheat import reduction to nearly one-third of its volume of annual average import of the 70s. Again in the second half of the 70s as domestic production failed to keep pace with demand, wheat import rose to 1-1/2 million to 2 million tons a year raising the wheat subsidy to Rs 3-4 billion in the annual budget. In 1993-94 and 1994-95 the actual import of wheat was reported at 2 million tons and 2-1/2 million tons respectively and a corresponding proportionate increase in the wheat subsidy in the government budget. Another important food item of mass consumption is edible oil. Import of edible oil, during the last decade and a half, has recorded threefold increase. In 1994-95 import of palm and soybean oil was about 1.4 million tons costing nearly $1 billion in foreign exchange. By the year 2000, the import requirement is expected to go up to 1.8 million tons.

Perhaps the single-most important lesson is that the question of poverty alleviation must be examined as a comprehensive development issue embracing the whole field of production, employment, consumption and distribution. It is not just a matter of resolving food production and population control. It must be recognised that food availability is not a sufficient condition to alleviate poverty. Pakistan’s history is a good example. Despite huge expenditures and effort in maintaining a certain level of food supply at reasonable price, government policy failed to benefit the target group even marginally. It is estimated that no more than 10 percent of the expenditure incurred in subsidizing wheat meant for the poorest among poor in the society actually reached the target group.

Highest priority must therefore be accorded to implementation of public policy with a dual function; first, removing such bottlenecks as the wastage of resources and improving productivity not only per unit of land but also per worker; second, reaching the target group especially in rural Pakistan. The first set of policies must be aimed at correcting the imbalances in fertilizer use, by all farmers and achieving a breakthrough in small farmers’ low productivity trap. The second type of policies, much harder to implement effectively, should be aimed at applying the so-called sequential approach to rural development with a view to arriving at a “desirable balance” between welfare and productivity.

As brought out clearly under the three alternative scenarios, the prospects of world’s food and population situation over the next 30 years or so appear to be rather bleak as far as the plight of the hungry and the under-nourished of the Third World is concerned. Under the realistic scenario, the food gap to be met from import is likely to increase and not diminish for the low-in-come countries as a whole. In tomorrow’s world, where demand for food is expected to exceed supply, dependence on food imports whether through aid or trade for countries like Pakistan would add to the struggle for survival. Pakistan’s best hope, in the context of the global scenario would therefore be the renewal of pledge to attain food self-sufficiency as soon as possible.

To meet the dual challenge posed by food and population, an action programme with the following components and relevant specific policy instruments needs to be given the highest national priority, if the hunger and unemployment crisis is to be averted:

  • Sequential approach to raising productivity and welfare.
  • Achieving a breakthrough in the low productivity trap of small farmers.
  • Institutional buildup at the grassroots level: depoliticising and streamlining the zakah administration.
  • Eradicating water and land resources wastage.
  • Integrating urban development with micro-enterprise cultural environment and industrial policies.


Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.
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