Impact of Biotechnology in Reducing Poverty and Hunger in Pakistan

- Farzana Panhwar (Mrs)

157-C, Unit No.2, Latifabad, Hyderabad (Sindh), Pakistan.



Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 13 (2003), 223-4.

In 1997 Pakistan population was 137.8 million people. The incidence of poverty in Pakistan is estimated between 30-35% of the population. The poverty line is sent with reference to a daily caloric intake of 2,550 calories per adult, as recommended by the Planning commission. The incidence of poverty declined from 46% of the population in 1984-85 to 37% in 1987-88 and 34% in 1990-91. In 1990-91, the incidence of poverty was higher in rural areas (37%) than in urban areas (28%).

The poverty line was set at Rs.296 (US$8.40) for monthly per capita consumption expenditure in rural areas and Rs.334 (US$9.50) for monthly per capita consumption expenditure in urban areas, poverty based on this method was 31.6% of population below the poverty line in 1991. The poverty in rural areas was 33.5% more than in urban areas (27%).

In Pakistan 65% of the population live in the rural areas, and their main profession is agriculture or agricultural related work. In 1981, 26.2% of the population above 10 years was literate. While in 1981 the illiteracy rate at the age group 15-24 for males was 54.6%, in urban areas it was 35.8%, in rural areas it was 64.2%. The female illiteracy rate was 75.1%, but for urban areas it was 51.9% and in the rural area it was 87.9%.

Rural poverty in Pakistan has been artificially created. The responsibility lies with the Federal Government's Price control Board. At the time of independence in 1947, agriculture was the dominating sector, contributing 53% of Gross Domestic Products (GDP). In 1987, 40 years after the formation of Pakistan, it contributed only 25% of GDP, still providing employment to more than 50% of the country's total labour-force. Agriculture and Agro-based industries account for 80% of country's total labour-force. The present prices of what in 1995 at Rs.160 per 40 kgs, is about 46.34% of 1975 prices in terms of real prices. Between 1975 Pak Rupee Visa-Vis US Dollar has depreciated from Rs.9.90 to Rs.31.00 per US$1.00. The US Dollar in turn has also depreciated to 0.3329 of 1975 its value. This justifies the price of wheat fixed by the Government increased by 10 times to that of 1975 or Rs.396.5 per 40 kgs, against Rs.160 as fixed by the Government.

Consequences of price controls

Consequences of low prices of agricultural commodities include:

Low margins of profit to the farming community. Low capacity of develop the land further. Lack of interest in spending on inputs like, water management, ground water development, irrigation techniques for saving water, applying optimum fertiliser, procuring better seeds, optimum use of plant protection measures, capital cost on structures for efficient farming, precious land leveling introducing new corps and etc.

Lack of inputs further reduces ability to spend on input and low level of yields are maintained. The yield of all agricultural commodities including fruits, vegetables, grasses are one third of those in advanced countries.

Low salaries to farm labour. Low ability of farmer to improve his lot, as well as that of his family. He cannot support his family and has to economise on food intake, wear cheap clothes, move bare-footed. The low standards of food further cause diseases in the family and high mortality as well as low life expectancy.

The farm family is not able to earn required calories of food. For rural Sindh the present average is 1600 kilo calories for females and 2000 kilo calories for males falling short by 20%, which is acquired by browsing of wild plant food like berries, young leaves of peas and beans, stolen vegetables and sugar cane and doing extra jobs at home or out side for some one.

The food of most of the rural labour force, tenant farmers and small owner cultivar has been reduced to cereals taken with tea or occasionally with peas and beans. Animal protein is taken hardly once a month. Milk is produced for sale and poor of above classes hardly take it.

The research of past 20 years has shown that if a minimum amount of milk is not taken by children under 14 years, they become mentally retarded, and this is common occurrence in Sindh of to-day i.e., new population from poor class is low in I.Q and is mentally retarded.

Why prices are controlled?

Prices are controlled to provide cheap labour to the industry. The industry exports manufactured goods at international prices and over and above that they earn bonus. Thus the industry makes high margin of profits, and they keep expanding and putting new industries from the profits. The city labour can fight for the wages but they are provided cheap grains, vegetables, meat, milk and fruit. They are also provided free medical assistance, the bill being about Rs.500 per month per worker's family. Leave salary, gratuity and leave fare assistance takes him to his home village on vacation or provide extra money for family if he stays in the town he works in. He raised no voice and if he does, wages are increased slightly and industrialists are allowed to make profits.

As against this, 100% of land owners are bankrupt and almost all of them take loans from banks for raising crops annually. Loans for industry are allowed against urban property and are allowed at 75% of value of property. Loans against land are paid on unit basis. A land of 40 units is sold at Rs.40,000 - 50,000 per acre but the land owner can get only Rs.3,000 for development from banks i.e., 10% or less of value. By these policies government have created poverty in the rural areas of Pakistan.

In 2025 due to new technologies and new trade laws like GATT, WATO, International Property Right, these International laws will change the shape of Pakistan government policies.

By the next century we have transgenic crops with better yields and more nutrition and would be able to grow under adverse conditions. This will definitely bring change in Pakistan agriculture and it will help in reducing the poverty by creating more markets and jobs. It will provide cheap food to every one but since the Pakistan population is growing at the rate of 2.8% paper year, by the year 2025 it will be 233 million, while per capita cropping area will be reduced to 0.7 hectare. The existing land will also suffer due to shortage of water which will reduced from 3,833 cubic meters to 1,643 cubic meters per capita as a result even when the land is available, it can not be put under agriculture due to shortage of water. At the same time cropped land will further be reduced, due to increase in salinity and water logging. In 1993 the extent of water logging and salinity in Pakistan at 0-5 feet or 0-152 cms water table depth was 4,923,000 hectares while in Sindh it was 3,633,000 hectares. In 1993 extent of water logging and salinity at 0-10 feet or 0-305 cms water table depth was 9,186,000 hectares while in Sindh it was 5,054,000 hectares.

It means only small portion of land will be left suitable for agriculture having proper irrigation and even this cultivated land will further be forced by CO2 emission which in 1992 was 0.6 metric tons and climatic change and global warming also bring the change in cropping pattern. Switching over to new cropping patterns is a slow process.

It means Pakistan depends upon import of food. If we see the global picture, the average production of cereals in the World in 1990-91 was 1,925,044,000 metric tonnes. It changed only by 18% change since 1980-82. In 1990-92 the average yield of cereals in the World was 2,757 kilograms per hectare, only a 22% increase since 1980-82. If we see a World picture of cereal production and yields in the past ten years, the change is only 18-22%. Global population is projected to reach 10 billion by the year 2025, so global agricultural production must expand 2.5 - 3.0 times to provide and adequate diet to the World people.

The World per capita food production has dropped due to increases in agricultural labour, reduced area under cultivation and shortage of irrigation water. Advanced technologies and mechanisation, advanced crop breeding practices need more input of fertilisers and pesticides. The World food production does not grow as fast as population increases.

This picture shows that biotechnology alone can not feed the World, we also need other methods of production. I simultaneously discussed this issue with the top agriculturists in Pakistan and according to them in year 2025 scientists may develop high potency vitamin and nutritional tablets to cover malnutrition but no one knows that a kind of gene may be evolved which would produce crop without the help of soil, or maybe a kind of gene is evolved which results into a well balanced diet. We may then need another types of raw material, other than agriculture based.

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