Home arrow Archives arrow Open Forum arrow Open Forum 2009 arrow Food Security Law:MATURED STRATEGY IMPERATIVE, by Dhurjati Mukherjee,6 June 2009
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
Food Security Law:MATURED STRATEGY IMPERATIVE, by Dhurjati Mukherjee,6 June 2009 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 26 June 2009

Food Security Law


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Will Prime Minister Manmohan Singh be able to deliver what his party chief, Sonia Gandhi is asking for? Last week Sonia has asked him to fulfil the Congress’ poll commitment: bringing a law to ensure food security to all, especially the BPL families, who would be given foodgrains at Rs 3 per kg. The draft bill “Right to Food (Guarantee of Safety and Security) Act” proposes freedom from hunger and malnutrition as a fundamental right. Well-meaning alright, but can India achieve the goal?  “”

Well, more than 850 million people worldwide suffer from hunger, 820 million of them in developing countries. That there are nearly a billion hungry people in the world today notwithstanding the gains made in agricultural productivity is startling. Since the past decade, attempts have been made to reduce by half the number of hungry people in the world by 2015, specially enunciated in the Millennium Development Goals. However, it is becoming clear that the goal will be very difficult to meet – the estimated number of undernourished has risen from 708 million to 2000 to over 852 million presently.

Widespread hunger undermines the development potential of nations and has far-reaching effects in society. An FAO study of developing countries over 30 years found that if nations with high rates of undernourishment had increased food intake to an adequate level, their economic output or GSP would have increased by 45%. Losses in labour productivity due to hunger are well known to cause reductions of 6 to 10% in per capita GDP and this has been reiterated by a UN Task Force on Hunger.

India may be the second fastest growing economy in the world, but it has a long way to go in eradicating hunger. Among 118 countries, it is 94th in the Global Hunger Index prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Though the country has improved its score lately, it is still lagging behind China and many other less developed countries.

In a country where 834 million people have per capita daily consumption of Rs 20 or less (as per the Report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector), hunger still remains one of the major challenges. High growth rate of GDP and the increase in the number of billionaires and millionaires is meaningless for the country unless this important issue in addressed effectively. In fact, India’s high growth of 9 per cent has bypassed 77 per cent of the population!

The IFPRI measured the Global Hunger Index based on three indicators: One, proportion of undernourished as a percentage of the population (reflecting the share of population with insufficient dietary energy intake); two, prevalence of under weightiness in children under five years (indicating the proportion of children suffering from weight loss and/or reduced growth); and lastly, under five mortality rate (partially reflecting the fatal synergy between inadequate dietary intake and unhealthy environment).

The problem in India has basically two broad aspects: more attention and resources for child health and nutrition, and two, ensuring sufficient income for the rural poor, specially farmers and labourers, so that they are assured two square meals a day. One cannot deny that the farm sector needs more attention and this has been well-enumerated in the National Policy for Farmers, which called for a paradigm shift from commodity-centred to a human-centred approach in agricultural planning and programmes. But not much has been done except for the debt waiver to farmers because of the predominantly urban bias in Indian planning. 

Thus, making available food for the hungry millions is no doubt a big challenge.  More so, as food prices have increased in recent times, the income levels of the poor and the backward sections have not. The rural poor are in major crisis and this could be attributed to increasing suicides, on the one hand, and unrest and violence among the neglected specially the adivasis and the dalits. This is in sharp contrast to the increasing levels of income of the middle-income sections and also the lower-income groups.   

While experiments in effecting improvements in the productivity of rice, wheat and the general range of commercial crops is welcome, there is also need to ensure an increase in  yields of pulses as the latter is a significant source of protein essential for human existence.  In 1950-51, the production of pulses was 8.41 million tonnes and in 2006-07 it was 14.23 million tonnes – the rise in output being less than 60 per cent. In fact, the production of pulses was already 10.62 million tonnes in 1953-54. This clearly reveals that while consumption went up, not much attention was given to production, which failed to keep pace with the increasing demand. Similarly, wheat production has also remained somewhat static.

The poor do not have the capacity to buy protein-rich food (like milk, fish, meat egg etc.) and with prices of pulses reaching ridiculous heights, these have become beyond their reach. Instead, they take as substitute a species of vetch, lathyrus salvis, widely known in the countryside as khesari, which gives some protein. But scientific reports reveal that over a period of time, the consumption of vetch leads to a form of permanent paralysis. This apart, lack of nutritious food has led to the incidence of diseases such as TB, cholera, jaundice etc. as the poor do not have the immune power to fight the bacteria. 

Recent reports however, indicate that scientists have developed rice that is richer in iron. Hari Krishnan of the University of Missouri, US and P. Sukumar of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore crossed a normal variety of rice Oryza salva with a wild one Oryza nivara to produce another variety that is superior to both. The rice not only cooks well but has an average protein content of around 12%. As a whopping 3.5 billion people in the developing countries lack enough iron in their diets, this rice could be a suitable substitute. But when and whether this variety of rice would be available to the poor at affordable prices remains to be seen. 

Clearly, there has to be a strategy to increase production of essential food items through better and innovative agricultural practices. The scarcity of water, the increase in floods and droughts and the pest-resistant techniques would need to be kept in mind while evolving a time-bound action plan. Also, the oft-repeated jargon of lab-to-land approach has to be implemented in letter and spirit. If necessary, measures may be taken for cooperative farming under control of panchayats to get more yields that could help small and marginal farmers to get more production and enhance their purchasing power. It has also to be ensured that soil degradation is effectively met and there is more attention on dryland farming with water availability steadily declining. 

Combating hunger and malnutrition is no doubt a critical challenge for the country. Greater all-round efforts on all fronts are needed. The UPA government has a challenge to provide food to the hungry millions. If it doesn’t, there is bound to be more violence and social tension in society. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News & Feature Allaince)




< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT