POVERTY IMPAIRS ACCESS TO FOOD IN PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN, UNITED NATIONS OFFICIALS STATE
POVERTY IMPAIRS ACCESS TO FOOD IN PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN, UNITED NATIONS OFFICIALS STATE19990514 ISLAMABAD, 14 May (UN Information Centre) -- In Pakistan and Afghanistan alike, production of major food crops has increased in recent years, and food imports make up the difference; but purchasing power severely restricts access to food, said World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) officials today at the weekly press briefing held at the United Nations Information Centre in Islamabad.
Adel Aboul-Naga, FAO Representative in Pakistan, confirmed reports that Pakistan's wheat production for this crop year will be close to the projected figure of 19 million tons. He stressed nevertheless that Pakistan could still produce a lot more and possibly even export wheat in the future. "It's possible and achievable", he said, also underlining that FAO had achieved progress overall with only small investments, using national expertise and no free inputs. Pakistan exports rice, but edible oil production is currently too low to reach self-sufficiency.
Bronek Szynalski, WFP Regional Director and Country Director for Pakistan, highlighted that despite improved production, Pakistan still depends on food imports. The Government purchased 3 million tons of wheat in 1998, as compared to 4 million in the years 1996-1997. "Pakistan is not dependent on food aid, but it does help the poorest", he added. Mr. Szynalski acknowledged that there remained a gap in food production, but highlighted that there was a more important gap between what is available on the markets and what Pakistanis can afford. "Forty-two per cent of the population is living below poverty level, which is unacceptable", he forcefully stated. He also noted that the current population growth would significantly affect the situation.
Food production in neighbouring Afghanistan was reviewed by Hans Brink, Programme Manager, FAO Crops Afghanistan, who underscored that the country's wheat production for 1998 had reached the highest levels since 1976. According to a recent FAO/WFP Crop Assessment Mission, the cereal deficit in Afghanistan for the current crop year has declined to 740,000 metric tons -- as compared to 1.2 million tons in 1995. The shortfall is made up through informal trade with Pakistan and food aid. "FAO's main intervention is to produce and distribute quality seeds", he said.
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In Afghanistan, it is estimated that the proportion of the population living below poverty level may be as high as 80 per cent, and -- as in Pakistan -- their low purchasing power is the single most important impediment to food security. According to a recent survey by Action Contre la Faim (ACF), up to 61 per cent of the children of Kabul under age 5 are stunted. M.A. Sackett, WFP Country Director for Afghanistan, confirmed that the rate of malnutrition in the capital city appears to be the highest in four years. "The main problem in Afghanistan is people's access to food. Trends in consumption and nutrition are negative because of the high level of unemployment throughout the country. There are food items available, but purchasing power is very severely limited", he said.
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