Human greed, along with actual inflation, is rapidly pushing the price of foodstuff way beyond the reach of a huge chunk of the population of Pakistan and whilst inflation may or may not be justified, there is certainly no justification for storekeepers who charge prices well above advertised rates or juggle the bill in expectation of getting away with what is a criminal offence. The heartrending sight of an obviously undernourished man manually hauling tremendous loads of goods on his head and back, and then expectantly heading off to a vegetable seller, cash pay in hand, to purchase vegetables for his familys daily use only to discover that the price of absolutely everything is totally beyond his budget is honest confirmation of just how badly the current food scenario is hitting those who are already fighting to stay alive. Going hungry is a cruel punishment for trying to earn an honest living and according to a recent World Food Programme survey 21 to 23 percent of the people in Sindh alone are suffering from malnutrition, a figure well above malnutrition percentages in African countries and way over the internationally recognised emergency level of 15 percent. True to say that the malnutrition in Sindh was exacerbated by last years flooding, which left millions of people homeless, landless and jobless, as it also did in other parts of the country too. Yet it is shocking, though unfortunately not surprising, that the government has allowed the situation to degenerate to the point where an estimated 70 percent of flood-affected people are currently relying on high interest loans in a last ditch attempt at staving off complete starvation. How they will ever manage to pay back these loans is anybodys guess, as the road they have, through government negligence, been forced to travel leads towards increasingly dire straits indeed. The Ministry for Agriculture, repeatedly and publicly, insists that there is no actual food shortage in the country and that the spectre of famine is only suggested by those with fertile imaginations. But this particular government department, along with many other such departments, needs to pull its head out of the sand, open its eyes and ears and accept that having abundant food stocks is all fine and dandy, yet completely useless when an extremely high percentage of the population cannot afford to buy it. The fact that a sack of flour has doubled in price over the last three years, whilst incomes have either remained static or, in the case of day labourers, dropped, as unemployment has risen due the ongoing economic crunch, underlines the seriousness of the situation being experienced from one end of the country to the other. The Ministry of Agriculture also fails to understand that 'man cannot live by bread alone, as even if people could pay the now astronomical price of flour, they still need a balanced dietary intake of fresh produce if they are to survive in any degree of comfort and well being. Eating roti/nan and nothing but, also results in malnutrition and maladies of many kinds, including childhood rickets and, more seriously, adversely affects the mental development and capacity of all age groups. If there is anything positive about this dreadful situation - a situation the government has actively promoted rather than seriously attempted to resolve - it is that a minuscule percentage of the population, who own land but had previously refrained from using it, have now been literally forced by their ever deteriorating economic situation to get to grips with sowing vegetable seeds and, for those with the sense to think long-term, planting fruit trees in the hope of being able to adequately feed their families and, for a few, to be in a position to sell any excess in the open market or simply to neighbours and friends. My thoughts on land use, as in 'use it or loose it have been aired in this column on previous occasions as regular readers will know but, as time goes on and the number of people going hungry on a daily basis increases by leaps and bounds, those lucky enough to have a piece of land, no matter how small, have more of a duty than ever to grow food with which to nourish their fellow countrymen, women and children. Claiming lack of time, lack of access to quality seed and other such lame excuses are not viable reasons for what is, in actual fact, nothing more than sheer laziness. A land owner has a bounden duty to both use and nourish the land they are lucky enough to call their own and, if they dont intend to do so, then they should be forced to allow someone else to grow food for their own personal consumption on it instead and, if they dont but are simply holding the land with a view to make a future killing in the property market, they should be penalised to the nth degree. Unused land is something a country sliding towards famine, albeit a direct result of misguided government policies, in conjunction with escalating climate change, is something Pakistan simply cannot afford to tolerate any longer. n The writer is a Murree-based columnist.