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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has proposed a five-point plan to deal with poverty and hunger in his address at the Governing Council of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) on Wednesday.

The prime minister proposed that first, “We need to invest in sustainable agriculture infrastructure – to facilitate transport, production, and distribution of agricultural inputs and food products.”

The “Green Lanes” created by China are a good example, he added.

Second, he stated that the governments needed to more actively ensure adequate and fair prices for agricultural and food products.

The so-called “magic of the market place” should be balanced by the “very visible hand of the State”, Khan said.

We in Pakistan have suffered from market manipulations by monopolists and hoarders. Farmers should not be left at the mercy of the corporations.

At the same time, international agricultural trade must be rationalised. The huge agricultural subsidies provided by certain richer economies distort global markets and make it impossible for farmers in the developing countries to compete, the premier added.

Third, he said that the new and breakthrough agricultural technologies and techniques must be consciously applied to enhance food production; ensure efficient usage of water and land; and above all improve seed quality.

The IFAD and the FAO can play a major role in this context; fourth, the adoption of digital technologies is as vital in agriculture as in other economic sectors.

Ensuring internet and broadband access to the rural areas will be vital for their integration into national and global supply chains, and fifth, and perhaps the most important, we must re-think our patterns of food consumption and production.

We can eat better and many of us would do well to eat less. We can produce food with greater respect for nature. We can stop the pollution of our lakes, rivers and oceans. We can produce more with less water, and without dangerous chemicals.

He further proposed that a new strategy for sustainable food production and consumption should be considered and adopted at the Food Systems Summit next year.

In Pakistan, he said, “We have integrated the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into our national development plan. My government has accorded the highest priority to achieve SDG-1 – ‘No Poverty’; and SDG-2 – ‘Zero Hunger’.”

The prime minister said that despite our financial difficulties, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the government provided a relief package of around eight billion dollars which included emergency cash assistance to the poorest families and other vulnerable groups, including women and children.

The government did so through our Ehsaas programme, which means compassion, fully utilising digital technologies and data bases. This was the largest poverty alleviation programme in Pakistan’s history.

He added that the agriculture sector, which had to grapple with the twin challenges of Covid-19 and locust attacks, continues to have his utmost attention and budgetary allocation has been increased almost three times. Growth target for the current year has been set at 3.5 percent, he added. The prime minister said that the country is engaged in one of the largest reforestation programmes in the world and plans to plant 10 billion trees over the next three years.

We will also set aside eight large areas as national reserves or national parks, he said, and added that under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); agricultural modernisation has been included as a vital element of our development strategy. This will move us significantly towards combating hunger and poverty.

The prime minister said that the national efforts of developing countries such as Pakistan, to promote sustainable development, and eliminate poverty and hunger, can only succeed through international cooperation. We desire such cooperation with all countries. We greatly admire the role played by the IFAD in promoting such cooperation.

Today, he added that the world confronts a looming agricultural crisis. The global population will soon reach eight billion people and six hundred million suffer from hunger while over 100 million children are stunted due to under nourishment.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to push another 100 million people into extreme poverty.

Over 20 countries are “food insecure”. The World Food Programme has warned of the danger of famine in some of the poorest countries and conflict zones, he added.

The prime minister said that the world faces multiple challenges in recovering from the pandemic and achieving vital first two Sustainable Development Goals: ‘No Poverty’ and ‘Zero Hunger’.

There is; (i) lack of financing; (ii) shortage of investment; (iii) trade distortions; (iv) unsustainable production and consumption patterns; (v) degradation of agricultural lands and forests; (vi) an impending water crisis; (vii) loss of bio-diversity; and polluted rivers and oceans.

We need a revolution in our vision of our future, he said and added that the Covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis should drive home the message to all – rich and poor, weak or powerful – that their destinies are intertwined. We will perish or survive together.

The concepts of geo-strategic adversaries; of regional or global domination; of the political advantages of foreign intervention and occupation and the oppression of peoples, are outdated and will soon be seen as irrelevant.

We need a common plan and strategy for global recovery, and survival and prosperity of all humanity.

In response to the recession triggered by the Covid-19 crisis, I proposed a ‘Global Initiative on Debt Relief’ last April.

The Debt Suspension announced by the G20 and the emergency lending programmes of the World Bank, the IMF and others have provided some breathing space.

But, according to the latest estimates, the developing countries need 4.3 trillion dollars to recover from the pandemic and achieve the SDGs.

Last December, at the Special Session of the UN General Assembly, I proposed several measures for generation of early financing to enable developing countries’ recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

These steps include; (i) comprehensive debt relief and restructuring; (ii) the creation of 500 billion dollars in SDRs; (iii) larger concessional financing; and measures to halt and recover illicit financial flows from developing countries to haven destinations and to richer countries.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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