Can economic growth reach Pakistans poor?
Another year has come to a close, with the markets abuzz with talks about SBPs accommodative monetary policy stance and structural reforms that have remained a highlight throughout 2012.
But for the common man who has little understanding-and use-for it, all this talk about economic growth and reducing inflation remain mere semantics, thought up by mightier men who can afford to fill up their cars with petrol and stock up on fresh milk and fruit - something that has become a luxury for most in this country.
Because as far as the case for hunger goes, growth- what little of it we have managed to garner these past few years- has done absolutely nothing in terms of making it easier for the poorest in this country to feed themselves.
Prices for food and perishables have remained on an upwards trajectory throughout 2012, with data collected by PBS showing a 6.9 percent increase in prices for food and perishables during the 4QCY12 alone, making everyday necessities such as flour and pulses exorbitantly expensive.
Consequently, the prevalence of undernourishment in Pakistan remains dangerously high, with some 20 percent of the countrys entire population falling within the undernourished bracket- which means that some 35 million people in the country are either going hungry or consuming food that is of very low nutritional value.
While there is consensus that strong economic growth can lead to significant improvements in nutrition, for a developing country like Pakistan the tragedy remains that the growth has just not been strong or rapid enough for any sort of effective hunger reduction to take place.
But a report compiled by FAO about the state of hunger in the world during 2012 has stressed that all is not lost.
In fact, contrary to popular belief, the report underlines that while growth is necessary, it is not sufficient for a sustained hunger reduction in developing countries like Pakistan where nutritional successes can be made much stronger when economic growth that reaches the poor is coupled with more specific educational and nutritional interventions.
Presenting a case for Bangladesh, the report notes that the trickle-down effect of prosperity has been much pronounced for the nation, which has managed to significantly bring down poverty between 1990 and 2012.
Consequently, the country has managed to achieve a 32 percent reduction in hunger within the last two decades, with the number of undernourished people going down to 25 million between 2010 and 2012.
Given that the countrys GDP growth on average has been double that of Pakistans, it would be impossible to ignore the links between the nations spending on other causes which are a supportive base for hunger eradication, with the Bengal governments spending on health initiatives being double that of the countrys larger neighbors, India and Pakistan.
Additionally, for a country like Pakistan, a singular focus on improving the efficiency of our agricultural system can also allow for a more equitable division of resources.
In this regard, focusing on agricultural cooperatives involving smallholders can help in reducing extreme poverty and hunger, allowing the poor to reap some small measure of benefit from the economic growth that we do manage to muster each year.