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Declining wheat consumption indicates food insecurity in Pakistan

Jun 03, 2010

Decline in consumption of wheat, the most basic of food staples in Pakistan, raises concern as it indicates the loss of purchasing power of the country’s people, said a UN official on Wednesday. The situation seems to be unstable with the soaring price of wheat and struggling economy of the country.

Wolfgang Herbinger, country director for the World Food Programme in Pakistan, said declining wheat consumption was a cause of major concern.

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"Normally there is more than 20 million tonnes of (wheat) consumption in Pakistan, but last year only 18 million tonnes were consumed," he said at the release of a report on food security in Pakistan.

Wheat is used to make roti and naan, or flat unleavened breads, which is the central component of Pakistanis' diet from the rugged tribal north to the restaurant tables of the capital.

The price of wheat and flour have soared over the last two years as the government struggles to keep its economy afloat with the help of loans from the International Monetary Fund, and control inflation, which has hit the poor the most.

"We are very concerned," Herbinger said. "That, of course, is the result of declining purchasing power."

Stagnant incomes and inflation are putting food out of reach, he added.

Pakistan's central bank on Tuesday revised its average inflation forecast for 2009/10 upwards at between 11.5 percent and 12.5 percent, compared with the earlier forecast of between 11.0 percent and 12.0 percent.

A government task force on food security estimated last year that about 62 million of 170 million people were below the poverty line in the 2008/09 (July-June) fiscal year.

According to the report, 15.7 percent of the population does not get enough food, while 58 percent are on the borderline. The people in the northwest tribal areas and Balochistan are the most affected.

Herbinger said the consumption of less wheat meant people were simply eating less as there was no substitute.

Food Minister Nazar Mohammad Gondal, who also spoke, said ensuring food security had become a challenging task due to soaring food prices during 2007/08 and the worldwide economic crisis in 2009.

"Our food security situation has been further compounded due to the war on terror, hurting the already food insecure areas of the country," Gondal said.

Pakistan is battling militants in the country's northwest, which has uprooted nearly three million people since 2009, putting an extra burden on the country's struggling economy to support a large number of internally displaced persons.

Source : Reuters
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