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SAARC Parliamentarians discuss food bank

Nov 07, 2012

The ongoing conference of Speakers of South Asia's Parliaments became forum to raise the issue of the failure to launch a SAARC food bank since the idea came up five years ago.

The ongoing fourth Conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians in Islamabad, Pakistan, was witness to an interesting session as the Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament, Abdul Hamid, raised the issue of a pending South Asia food bank that would go a long way to ensure food security in the region.

"SAARC Food Bank was established in 2007 officially, but still it is not fully operational. Therefore, Parliamentarians could play a proactive role to mobilize political support for the operationalisation of the Food Bank," he said while speaking as the lead speaker on a session on food security.

The Bangladesh Speaker presented a paper on "Targeting Food Security for the Region: Ensuring Parliament's Role in Accomplishing MDGs". at the fourth session of the second day's Conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers' and Parliamentarians.

The Bangladesh Speaker chaired the third session of the day's event titled: "Meaningful Participatory Democracy in South Asia-Parliament's Affirmative Actions". The Parliamentarians of the SAARC countries participated in the interventions.

As the speaker spoke of how climate change has emerged as a threat for food production and food security in South Asia, he advocated for a concerted effort on the part of the eight SAARC nations to face the challenge.

The paper presented by the Bangladesh speaker did not find coverage in the region's news media, obsessed at the moment with the elections across the Pacific. However, the issues raised by Abdul Hamid have provoked a debate in government circles as telephone lines between countries went abuzz.

Critics remain skeptical about a breakthrough though, blaming it on the lack of political will.  The proposed food bank has two distinct objectives : to work as a regional reserve for food security during emergency and, secondly,  to develop a common response under joint initiative to combat food shortfall in a member country collectively.

The food bank is envisaged to have a total dedicated stock of 2,41,580 metric tones. Of this, India will contribute 1,53,200 metric tones and Bangladesh and Pakistan will contribute 40,000 tones each while Nepal and and Sri Lanka will contribute 4,000 tones each. Afghanistan, Maldives and Bhutan are slated to contribute 1420 tones, 200 tones and 180 tones respectively.

There is, however, a growing belief that the stock that the SAARC Food Bank is currently authorized to deal with is quite small and should be phenomenally increased to bring more food security coverage to a wider segment of the region's people. It is also proposed to double the amount to 4,86,000 metric tones.

According to some people in the know, the Food Bank is delayed because the Afghan Parliament has not ratified the agreement. "The slow move of the Kabul government has put on hold the entire process at a time when all remaining seven members of the group have already ratified it," says Faruque Ahmed of the Bangladesh-based Equity and Justice Working Group.

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