High food prices hurts poor

By Stella Cheung

When the prices of food rise in PNG, households forego basic rights, just so they can use the money to buy food.

Speaking at the first day of the Food Security Policy Conference on high food prices in PNG, Professor Satish Chand, of the School of Business, University of New South Wales, said households in PNG would substitute for the high food prices by foregoing basic rights such as not going to hospitals when they are sick and even not sending their children to school, just so they can afford to buy food.

“If anyone spends half or more than half of their income on food, then they are highly vulnerable of falling into poverty when food prices spike,” Professor Chand said, addressing more than 50 participants at the conference at the National Research Institute (NRI) in Port Moresby.

He said if the price of food goes up, a poor person would not be able to reduce his consumption.
“If you’re already at the base level of consumption and the price of food goes up and if you reduce consumption, you starve,” Professor Chand said, adding that reducing food consumption is an option that poor people don’t have.
“Often than not, when the price of food goes up, we know from the literature that poor people substitute out of other essentials,” he explained.

Professor Chand said at the moment the economy is growing but the challenge was to ensure that the benefits of this growth reach the poor, in particular.
“We think about two groups of people. One group of people live to eat, but there is another group who eat to live. The group who eat to live are people who struggle to find enough to eat, because they are not looking at what they are going to eat tomorrow but when they are going to have their next meal,” he said.

“The people who are struggling for food right now are the people we have to think about.
We have an opportunity to try to make life easier. We can’t solve the problem but we have an opportunity to make life easier, to make food more affordable,” Professor Chand emphasised.

Professor Chand said PNG exports more than it imports.
“When prices go up for these commodities we should actually do better, as a nation our income should go up. The distribution is really uneven, so that’s a challenge for policy,” he said.

The Food Security Policy Conference on High Food Prices in PNG started yesterday and will end on Thursday. 

Source: Post Courier, September 7, 2011

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