The food shortage tsunami

The Weekly Pulse | 11 September 2008

By Zia Qureshi

The food shortage and increasing prices of edible items has created a crisis with far-reaching implications. The oil rich Arab countries, which are not self-sufficient in food, meet 80 per cent of their needs by importing edible items.

According to a report by the United Nations, the growing scarcity of food and price hike have led to an increase in the number of incidents involving violence and instability all across the globe.

The report underlines that during the period 2004-15, the food prices will remain sky high due to the scarcity of food items. Besides, the people of the developed countries would be forced to buy costly fuel. On the other hand, the poor, in spite of spending 75 per cent of their income on food, would find it difficult to make ends meet.

During the past three years, the international as well as domestic prices of food items have jumped by 100-150 per cent. Experts are of the view that if the situation continued like this, then a new series of protests would start across the world.

In Egypt, a number of demonstrators have lost their lives in protests against price hike. In Haiti, the protests against price hike and food scarcity forced the prime minister to quit the government.

The World Bank has given top priority to food scarcity in its agenda and it has been decided to formulate a new global food policy. That slogan for it has been set as ‘Food for All’. For this purpose, the agricultural countries will be issued heavy loans that they could use for increasing their agri-produce. Aid worth 30 billion dollars has been announced for the development of the agriculture sector in Africa.

According to the World Bank, due to the increasing inflation, achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2015 would become very difficult.

Due to the scarcity of food items and increasing food prices, there is new trend seen in terms of Arab countries’ interest towards buying agricultural lands of the agricultural countries.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Pakistan People’s Party co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, in their recent visit to Saudi Arabia, tried to convince the Saudi authorities towards investing in the agricultural sector of the country. In this regard, it is expected that the minister of trade and the minister of agriculture of Saudi Arabia would visit Pakistan.

Pakistan’s minister for privatization and investment, at a recently held forum in Dubai, announced that Pakistan was willing to provide land with 100 per cent ownership rights and that the buyers would be free in importing the agri-produce to their country as well.

Experts are of the view that possible Saudi investment would help ease Pakistan’s current account deficit and enable the country to meet its oil needs. That is the reasons that the experts are terming the talks between Pakistani and Saudi authorities as oil for land deal and are according special importance to it. Saudi Arab is having talks with Turkey, Pakistan, Ukraine and Sudan for buying agri land. United Arab Emirates and other gulf states have already invested some three billion dollars in the agricultural sector of Pakistan. During the past three years, the Arab countries have invested five billion dollars in Turkey and more investment is being planned.

Suadi Arabia is the first country to have expressed its interest in the agri-land of Turkey. Saudi Arabia is, at the moment, planning to purchase 0.1 million acres of agricultural land in Turkey, Pakistan, Ukraine and Sudan to grow wheat, maize, rice, Soya bean and alfalfa.

The possible investment by the Arab countries in the agricultural sector is expected to improve the national economy. But on the other hand, there are certain reservations about this kind of investment as well. If the Arab countries meet their agri needs by using our land, then this will further reduce our agri produce. This is the reason that it is being suggested that instead of investing in this manner, the Arab countries should be encouraged to invest in sectors related to the agri-sector.

It is imperative for the government to introduce reforms in the agri-sector and help it develop.

The quality of seed, fertilizers, and equal distribution of water to the fields are equally significant. Fifty per cent of the current crisis can be resolved by taking these measures.

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