On January 01, 2021, the Prime Minister announced his New Year resolution this year was to make sure that no one goes to bed hungry in the country. The ‘Koi Bhuka Na Soye’ initiative was conceptualized and designed under the umbrella of Ehsaas on a fast-track basis.
According to one estimate by the Business Recorder, close to 35%-40% of Pakistanis went below the poverty line in 2020, especially as corona hit daily wage laborers hard. Malnutrition exists in double digits for males and is as high as 38 percent amongst children.
Under Sustainable Development Goal 2, Pakistan’s government like many others are to work on ending hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture in their countries.
Since the government has come into power several schemes have been launched under the Ehsaas program; the emergency cash program, Amdan, Khifalat, Langars, and now the ‘Koi Bhuka Na Soye’ program. Under the ‘Koi Bhuka Na Soye’ program, the poor would be provided free meal boxes twice a day through mobile trucks at various points in the cuties.
The program has been launched with the collaboration of the Provincial Social Welfare Department, Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal, and Saylani Welfare Trust.
The program was initially started in twin cities but has recently has been extended to Peshawar, Lahore, and Faisalabad. A virtual ceremony to launch the initiative in the above-named three cities was held on Sunday with Prime Minister Imran Khan as chief guest.
Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa led the ceremony formally to launch the program in the provincial capital Peshawar.
The step is a new policy initiative of the Federal Government to eliminate hunger in the country. It is an extension of the Ehsaas Langar program, which distributes cooked meals at designated delivery points to people in need. Many of the program’s recipients will be the labor class, including the elderly, laborers, daily wage earners, women, and children who cannot access Ehsaas Langar points set up in industrial zones and other sites.
In addition, under ‘Koi Bhuka Na Soye’ the direct subsidy program, subsidy amounts would be directly credited to the accounts of poor people enabling them to buy basic food items.PM Imran Khan described the ‘Koi Bhuka Na Soye’ program as the beginning of Pakistan’s transformation into a welfare state.
A similar direct subsidy program is also to be initiated for farmers to help them get fertilizers and other agricultural inputs at subsidized rates. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Poverty Alleviation & Social Protection Dr. Sania Nishtar has explained the program aims to provide hygienically packed food – lunch and dinner –to needy individuals through real-time mobile kitchens.
As per estimates, each food truck will be able to feed two meals to around 2,000 people daily and will target those who cannot reach the Panahgaahs. The project would later be further scaled to reach other areas of the country.
The pilot program will enable the government to learn the potential issues and challenges that may arise; these will then be resolved before its extension to other cities. The prime minister has stated that it was his dream to extend the ‘Koi Bhuka Na Soye’ program to the whole country.
He also stated that many philanthropists desired to participate in such programs. The program has been designed in a public-private partnership model whereby the Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal would be responsible for the operations of food trucks, and Saylani Wel-fare International Trust would be responsible for the provision of meals.
To make the ‘Koi Bhuka Na Soye’ program more financially stable, the Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division have constituted a “Donor Coordination Group” that will serve as an Ehsaas channel to engage with the private sector. The coordination group would oversee pledges and commitments from interested parties.
Road to perdition?
However, the government that has started to pump massive funding into the Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division under its aim to create a Riyasat-e-Madina for Pakistan is increasing its footprint across society by enabling ‘the status quo’ to game the system.
Schemes that start of very well, before we know it, those that want to find ways to personally benefit discover easy ways in the government system to do it. In the case of ‘Koi Bhuka Na Soye’ scheme, procurement of foodstuff will be the first place where siphoning ‘profits’ can start.
Moreover, given the government’s fiscal constraints, where is this money coming from? At a time when worldwide there is a clear realization that even rich countries cannot sustain mass schemes of welfare in the long term, Pakistan under Prime Minister Imran Khan’s no doubt good intentions has embarked on a journey that has already seen the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was not able to take care of its population in the long run due to infringement of government into every sphere of the economy.
There is opacity over whether many of these projects will be funded from the public or private purse, or donor money in the long run. Will the federal government or provincial governments fund it? After the 18th Amendment, 50 percent of all federal revenues now go to the Provinces, and food security falls under the ambit of the provinces.
Furthermore, Pakistan’s fiscal deficit end June 2020 stood at 8.1 percent, slightly lower than fiscal year-end June 2019, which was 8.9 percent — the highest in at least four decades. The relationship between the fiscal deficit and inflation is clear and unambiguous especially in high inflation-developing countries such as Pakistan.
It creates higher inflation, which ultimately impacts the larger segment of those poor and not benefiting from these schemes. The Prime Minister, who has many times praised China taking over 800m people out of poverty, should also get a cell set up specifically to study how this was done.
China placed the development of agriculture, farmers, and rural areas at the heart of this strategy. In brief, rural development strategies were adopted to boost food production through modernization of the agricultural sector, whilst maintaining a focus to ensure self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs. In addition, focused infrastructural investments were made in rural areas including improvements in irrigation and drainage.
There’s an old saying, usually attributed to Confucius, that goes something like “Give a man a fish, and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.”
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Our recommendation would be for the government to focus policies and funding on giving people access to easy training, schooling, and finance to set up their own businesses. In the long run, this is the way to create a more just and equitable society.