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Pak food prices too high

Pakistan's government has pushed food prices too high for its impoverished population and malnutrition is rising despite crop recovery after dire floods, a UN relief official said on Wednesday.

world Updated: Mar 23, 2011 19:48 IST

Pakistan's government has pushed food prices too high for its impoverished population and malnutrition is rising despite crop recovery after dire floods, a UN relief official said on Wednesday.

Food crops especially wheat in the southern plains hit by last year's floods were recovering fast with the prospect of decent yields in coming weeks, said World Food Programme (WFP) director in Pakistan, Wolfgang Herbinger.

"The crop outlook is not bad but the food security situation remains difficult because prices remain so high," he told journalists on the sidelines of humanitarian meetings in Geneva.

"The government is the biggest buyer of wheat in Pakistan they are setting the farm gate price and they dominate market," Herbinger said.

"That's why the wheat price in Pakistan didn't adjust when, for example, in 2009 and early 2010 the wheat price had gone back a lot, it stayed high to the detriment of local consumers."

People paid double the price for wheat compared to three years ago and the food security situation has "changed dramatically," the WFP official added.

Malnutrition levels in the southern province of Sindh had reached 21 to 23 %, according to the agency.

"That is well above African standards. The emergency standard is 15 %," the WFP official said.

A recent survey found that in some flood-hit areas 70 % of people were taking out loans to pay for food.

"You may have the country full with food but people are too poor to buy it," he said.

The WFP was "struggling a bit" to get the message across, he said.

"We are working a lot with the ministry of agriculture to explain to the minister that it is not enough to have enough production in the country if people can't afford it."

"Maybe for political reasons he doesn't always understand it, that it's one thing to be nice to the farmers but if your consumers can't afford it then it's... So there's something wrong with agricultural policy," Herbinger added.

Massive floods caused by monsoon rains in July and August 2010 killed thousands, destroyed 1.7 million homes and damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land, experts have said.

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