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Population & Food Issues

At the turn of the present century perhaps the most serious threat confronting the global economy and the decision-makers of the low-income countries is the inadequacy of food production and their consequent fast-growing dependence cereal imports from the developed countries. The world population is likely to far exceed 6 billion by the year 2000. Ironically, while less than a third of this total resides in the developed world, approximately three-fourth of the global resources are consumed there. Nearly one-fourth of the total world population is concentrated in the South Asian region comprising just seven countries (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma and Bhutan) belonging to the low-income group. Besides, about half the world’s poorest among poor, estimated around 800 million, live in this region. Given the already hard-pressed budgets and balance of payments position of these countries and the dwindling volume of foreign assistance, need for restructuring agricultural production to achieve a desirable balance between population and productivity can hardly be overemphasized.

The most serious repercussions are reflected in the increasing dependence of the developing countries on cereal imports. Studies carried out by agencies like FAO have shown that the imbalance in domestic production and the requirement of food in these countries has worsened immensely. During 1950 to 1990, dependence of low-income group of countries on cereal imports (excluding China) increased from just over 12 million metric tons to much above 100 million tons. This larger-than-eightfold increase in the volume of food imports despite the fact that both the developed and the developing worlds increased their food production around 3 percent per annum, is the most serious matter of concern. Global food availability increased from 2300 daily per capita to 2700, during the last four decades but hunger and malnutrition has worsened.

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The World Bank Development Report 1990, devoted exclusively to issues of poverty, estimated a total of over one billion as the world’s poor and 600 million as extremely poor in the 4.8 billion world population in mid-1980s. This staggering number of indigent people living [mostly] in the Third World were struggling to survive on a meager average monthly income of $30, The formidable task of tackling such a massive and continuing burden of poverty indeed poses the greatest challenge to policy-makers for which few practical solutions are in sight, if the past experience is any guide.

In 1948, UN Declaration of Human Rights recognised the right of everyone to a reasonable minimum living standard including food intake. In 1974, the World food conference reaffirmed the inalienable right of every man, woman and child to rid of hunger and malnutrition as a collective responsibility of member countries of the United Nations. Key issues arising from the inter-relationships between food production and population growth have been examined and re-examined specifically since the convention of the World population conference held in Bucharest in August 1974 followed only a couple of months later by the World food conference held in Rome in November 1974, As a follow-up of the recommendations in these conferences, a number of international seminars on the subject under the auspices of agencies like FAO and UNFPA have been held. Volumes haves been written proposing concrete measures for implementation by the member countries. But the goal of achieving any significant improvement in the plight of the world’s poor remains as elusive as ever. The number of the world’s poorest among poor estimated 600 million in 1985 has increased to 800 million in 1995.

Dr. Ghulam Rasul


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