The cost of food | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 28, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 28, 2008


The cost of food

Nothing is more important

THAT, according to World Bank estimates, the recent rise in food prices has pushed as many as four million people back into poverty, merely puts a number on a crisis that we have all been well aware of for quite some time now. However, diagnosing the problem is not the issue before us, the issue is what steps can be taken to address this serious and on-going crisis.
The current government and its successor after the December elections need to make the affordability of food priority number one. When the great gains we have made over the years in poverty alleviation stand to be wiped away and when we are out of sync with our commitments towards the Millennium Development Goals and poverty reduction targets, then it is crystal clear that the rising cost of food requires immediate attention.
The first area to address is productivity. With better and more timely supply of inputs such as fertilizer, diesel, and electricity as well as use of high-yielding varieties of seeds and more up-to-date crop management practices, our farmers have shown us that they are equal to the challenge of growing all the food we need.
However, more production is not the answer, as the current situation, when prices have not fallen after the recent bumper boro harvest, has told us. The next level which requires government attention is the distribution mechanism and the supply chain that determines how food reaches the consumer. More efficient, transparent, and smoother running distribution mechanisms would ensure that more of the money we pay at market ends up in the farmer's pocket.
Finally, the government must step up safety net practices such as the VGF programme and open market sales of subsidised rice for the working poor and the destitute. For those hardest hit by the price rise, there can be no alternative to government subsidies and we need to look closely as to how best to direct such subsidies.
Ultimately, however, we need to come to the realisation that the price of rice is not going down nor can we expect to enjoy low prices forever. This means that, more than anything else, we need to ensure that people's purchasing power is not eroded, rather it is enhanced, and the only way to do this is through a growing economy that creates good jobs for good wages.

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