Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Food Security In India

This is my seminar paper on food security (or rather insecurity) in India for the group discussion today at college, responses are welcomed!! Also reminding all rights are reserved to THE GREEN FLAME (that would be me), i.e, ask before copying. That can be helpfull to you also because I can tell you the sites I visited, and where you can find authentic data, news coverage of the topic and more information!
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has pointed out in it’s report brought out in 2002 that 24% of Indian population are malnourished and other 1/5th of our population suffers from chronic hunger. However this cannot be taken as a function of under production of food grains. The food security of India cannot be seen in isolation from the global scenario as well.
“Food Security” could be defined as “Reliable availability of sufficient quantity and quality of nutritious food for a population”. In the global scenario also food security is not directly related to worlds food production. In 2007 according to FAO there were record grain harvests. The record yield was 2100 million metric tonnes. If all the cereals grown had been distributed equally across 6.6 billion persons and used as food there would have been no crisis. The cereals alone would have supplied every one amounts of calories and proteins with about 30% left over.
But in reality all over the world it is estimated that about 923 million people are undernourished, 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty and over 3 billion live in less than 2$s per day. It is in this background we have to look into the reasons of food insecurity.
There is a general perception that the food crisis is a by-product of ever increasing population. But there is no data to substantiate this argument. In fact, over the last 20 years, world food production has risen steadily at over 2% a year, while the rate of global population growth has dropped to 1.14% a year. Population is not outstripping food supply. But the real reason is that people are too poor to buy the food that is available. We're seeing people hungry at greater numbers than before even when there is food on the shelves.
Therefore to we have to look at the reasons for increasing food price by which people are priced out of the market.
  1. One systemic cause for the price rise is held to be the diversion of food crops for other uses. Cereal stock is being diverted in many countries as livestock feed, sweetener (i.e., high-fructose corn syrup), raw material for plastic, and feedstock for fuel in the form of ethanol. An estimated 100 million tons of grain per year are being redirected from food to fuel. As farmers devoted larger parts of their crops to fuel production than in previous years, land and resources available for food production were reduced correspondingly. Filling a tank of an average car with bio fuel, amounts to as much maize (Africa's principal food staple) as an African person consumes in an entire year.
  2. Another reason is the changing food habits i.e. increasing meat eating habits also have a major impact. Seven Kilogram’s of grains are equivalent to one Kilogram of beef.
  3. The rise in the price of oil has heightened the costs of fertilizers the majority of which require petroleum or natural gas to manufacture. Because natural gas can substitute for petroleum in some uses increasing prices for petroleum lead to increasing prices for natural gas, and thus for fertilizer.
  4. Higher prices for liquid fuels from petroleum increase the demand for bio fuels, which may result in diverting some crops from food to energy. This is another way in which increasing petroleum price contributes to the increase in price of food crops.
  5. Speculation and futures trading have also contributed substantially to increase in prices of various essential commodities including food items.
  6. Apart from the economic reasons mentioned above environmental factors leading to reduction in crop production also contribute to the increasing price of food crops. Major environmental factors affecting crop production are drought, heat wave, unseasonal rains, Cyclone and Diseases such as stem rust that cause 100% crop loss.
  7. Large areas of croplands are lost year after year mainly due to soil erosion, water depletion and urbanization. Around 60,000 Sq.km per year of land becomes so severely degraded and becomes wasteland, adding to the crop supply problem.
Though all the points mentioned above are relevant in Indian scenario, inadequacy of public distribution system, exhaustion of buffer stock as a part of globalisation and rapid opening up of the agricultural sector to foreign competition from vastly subsidized food grain from developed countries are the specific issues leading to food crisis in India.
In July 2002 India was at an all time high 63.1 million tonnes of food grain stocks with Food Corporation of India (FCI). This exceeds the requirement for food security by about 20million tonnes, yet above 200 million people go hungry and 50 million are on the brick of starvation. The existence of food stocks above buffer requirements has not translated into availability.
Green Revolution using modern agricultural techniques and high yielding varieties of seeds resulted in a significant difference in regional concentration of food grain outputs. North and north-west of India became the granaries of India where as states like Kerala, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Assam and Andhra Pradesh concentrated in to cash crop production. In this situation in order to ensure judicious distribution of food grains the government set up administered price system of public procurement and public distribution. This system ensured procurement of food grain at price safe guarding the interest of farmers, distribution of food grains through out the country at regulated price ensuring price control in open market and maintained satisfactory level of buffer stock of food grains ensuring national food security. However the impact of globalisation disrupted smooth operation of the system.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on agriculture unfortunately has made developing countries like India more committed to marketisation of agriculture than developed countries like USA which have continued to maintain their high level of agricultural subsidies. This has made agriculture in India less profitable, discouraging farmers from the field resulting in reduction of agricultural production.
The governments of developed countries refuse to eliminate their outrageous agricultural subsidies while imposing their rules of international trade on the rest of the world. Their voracious trans-national corporations set prices, monopolise technologies, impose unfair certification processes on trade, and manipulate distribution channels, sources of financing, trade and supplies for the production of food worldwide. They also control transportation, scientific research, gene banks and the production of fertilisers and pesticides.
The worst of it all is that, if things continue as they are, the crisis will become even more serious. The production and consumption patterns of developed countries are accelerating global climate change, threatening humanity's very existence. These patterns must be changed. The irrational attempt to perpetuate these disastrous forms of consumerism is behind the sinister strategy of transforming grains and cereals into fuels.
Therefore the only way to an end to the food crisis is as the establishment of a peaceful and prosperous world and a just and equitable international order. The right to food is an inalienable human right. Hunger and malnourishment cannot be eradicated through palliatives, nor with symbolic donations which will not satisfy peoples' needs and will not be sustainable.
At the very least, agricultural production in India must first be rebuilt and developed. Sustainable small scale farming based, revitalising traditional models ensuring soil and water conservation and curbing big agri-business that relies on genetically altered strains and chemical pesticides may be promoted. At the same time the public procurement, storage and public distribution system should be strengthened.