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THE 9 BILLION PEOPLE QUESTION is the title of special 14 page report of The Economist, American weekly journal, published on 26th February, 2011. The report discusses reasons of the current rise in food prices, raises a question about feeding growing population and suggests few solutions to be implemented on wide scale depending on their successful results after implementing in smaller scale in the different parts of the world. Food prices have shot high twice in less than four years which is the reason of global food crisis and towards which the report draws our attention. Higher food prices have resulted in addition of millions of additional people below the poverty line across the globe. These volatile prices of food items are becoming the reason of upheaval in many countries, like Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries, and can be reason of many upcoming revolutionary movements in other developing countries with large poor population.

Report says that many of the reasons of second highest spike in the food prices after 1984 are temporary but other reasons, which always have been the prime mover of food crises in the world, cannot be ignored. These hidden and always present factors must be brought into consideration and panacea to the food crises must be concocted by the world leaders and leading organizations to prevent the large portion of the world population from falling in the abysmal chasms of abject poverty and to avoid the crisis which will originate with the growing population in coming years.  Recent highest price spike after 2006 world’s food crisis has many temporary reasons including drought in Russia and Argentina; floods in Pakistan, Australia and Canada; weak value of dollar, trade restrictions and policies; restocking and hoarding by exporters; high oil prices in global market and increasing demands of two giant devouring nations India and China. This year wheat crop in China has been severely affected which has generated the threat of drought in China which will exacerbate the food crises and poor nations will have to absorb the shocks of further spikes in food prices. World population is increasing with the rate of almost 1 percent per year and by this calculation the world’s population will approximately reach to 7 billion in the end of 2011 and will become 9 billion in 2050. In coming 40 years the production rate must rise by 70 percent to fill 9 billion stomachs but it seems difficult because of many factors, as enlisted by report, like little available unformed land, shortage of water, change in the world’s climate and many other factors related with agriculture. These are the obvious causes which can be controlled, to some amount, and avoided, to a smaller level, in many parts of the world but many other factors including farmers’ income, distribution of food, consumerism, policies and democracies causes famine in the world.  Moreover, low production rate of wheat and rice, two important constituents of food, as compared to the world’s population growth rate alarms of the further increase in food prices and global food crisis.

The main target of report is on feeding 9 billion people in 2050 but these questions are also related to feeding 7 billion current population of the world. Current global food crisis has drawn world’s attention towards the deficiencies in the current agriculture system of the world and climate change in the form of global warming and demands change in the current agriculture system and implementation of modern techniques and effective policies to help poor countries to feed their people. Rise in food prices has devastatingly affected the poor people’s living standard as large population of the world spends more than 50 percent of their income on food. People are becoming poorer and disturbances among nations are escalating. Current springing up of rebellious movements in many countries, like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Middle East, are outcome of growing poverty, severe food crisis, higher unemployment and corruption catapulting their lands. Similar kind of revolution, in headlines of mainstream Pakistani media, is discussed to be erupted in the land of the pure as people are suffering from higher prices of food items, utility bills and oil products. Unemployment and abeyant business opportunities in the country have frustrated the youth who are sick of mis-governance, nepotism, corruption and indifference of the ruling party in Pakistan. Most of the reasons of these crises are domestic but many global factors define the complexity of our crises equation as spike in food prices globally has caused rise in food products in Pakistan.

This report is helpful for Pakistanis to know about the factors causing food crisis globally and concerns of feeding growing population which will add 2 billion more persons in next 40 years. In Pakistan agriculture accounts for 23% of the GDP and employs 44% of the labor force and 25% of total land is under cultivation with world’s largest irrigation system. Pakistan must not be affected so easily by exotic food crisis due to strong agricultural infrastructure and nature’s favor. But the reality is opposite to the expectations. Pakistan is facing double-digit inflation rate which is increasing with passage of time. The ruling Pakistan’s People Party famous for its electioneering slogan “roti, kapra aur makan’’ has become notorious for the same slogan as it has not only failed to provide basic necessities of life,  food, shelter and job, to the people of Pakistan but also has narrowed their sources of income by levying heavy taxes.

Shocks of global food crisis felt in Pakistan also but it is not the only reason of current price hike of food items in Pakistan. There are multiple intricate factors which need to be brought to the parliament and tables of the policy makers if they really want to work for the welfare of the people.