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Food Security: HOLISTIC APPROACH CRITICAL, by Dr.S. Saraswathi, 19 Nov, 2011 Print E-mail

Open Forum                       

19 November 2011, New Delhi

Food Security



(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)



No country, including India, can afford to be complacent when reports of starvation deaths, suicides by farmers, and massive malnutrition make breaking news frequently. While the Government proposes to bring the Food Security Bill this winter session of Parliament to address these maladies, a holistic approach would have been more welcome.    


The Food and Agriculture Organization has been repeatedly issuing a warning of impending global hunger crisis that is likely to affect more than one-sixth of the world population and endanger peace and security. India can boast of being recognized as one of the fastest growing economy, but at the same time faces the prospect of developing as a hunger capital of the world.  The contrast is unbelievable and even unknown to the fortunate few, but is real and demands immediate remedial measures.


The World Food Summit held in 1996 defined food security by describing it as a situation when “all people at all times have access to sufficient safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”  It has explained that the concept of food security includes both physical and financial access to food that can meet dietary needs as well as food preferences of the people.


The Summit set itself a target of halving hunger by 2015. Between 1997 and 2009, over two lakh farm suicides have been recorded in India.  Five States comprising Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra earned a name as “suicide belt” of India as a vast majority of farm suicides happened there. In the global hunger index, India’s rank is 67 among 87 countries leaving only 15 countries in a worse situation.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) to which India is also a signatory recognizes the right to food as an inalienable right.  The Supreme Court of India has stated that the right to food is a fundamental requirement for the Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.  Therefore, any law or action to provide food security must be viewed as a measure towards enforcing a right and not an optional benevolent programme to promote people’s welfare.


Hunger deaths are of two types – one involuntary through famine and drought, and the other voluntary as in the case of farmers’ suicides.  Hunger is also manifested apart from lack of food in various forms of privations and deprivations like suicides of farmers, submission to labour exploitation, bonded labour, child labour, begging, disease, violence, even crime and so on.  None of these can appear if the country really considers food security as an inalienable human right and a fundamental right of every citizen.  The Government has to constantly remind itself of the Supreme Court’s position in this regard.


Food security is a very complex developmental issue and its various components have been in the agenda of national planning as separate issues since the 1950s.  However, only in recent years, a comprehensive approach to development is being evolved in which food production and distribution form part. A holistic approach to food security scheme was launched in Brazil in 2003 known as “zero hunger campaign” to cover production, consumption, storage, etc.


According to experts, food security, must address three major issues, namely, food availability, access to food, and use of food. The first is governed by food production adequate by quantity and quality, the second by physical and financial ability to obtain food, and the third by proper consumption in relation to nutritional needs. Food security involves production and distribution in which storage and transport form important part. It includes nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, water supply, and healthy environment. 


The Food Security Bill presently approved by the Empowered Group of Ministers which will, after Cabinet’s approval, go to Parliament has the following salient features: One, monthly entitlement of 7 kg. foodgrains per head at Rs.3 per kg for rice, and Rs.2 per kg for wheat, and Re.1 per kg for grains for 75% of rural households, and 50% of urban households; two, minimum of 3 kg of foodgrains per head for general category; three, Rs. 1,000 per month to pregnant and lactating mothers for 6 months; four legal right to take home ration/meal to women, children, special groups including destitute, homeless, disaster affected persons, and persons living in starvation.


The Bill proposes to introduce legal entitlement to subsidized food, and to replace the existing categorization as “below poverty line” and “above poverty line” with new groupings known as “priority households” and “general category”.  It is still in a way targeted programme aiming to cover about 67% of the population of the country.


 A common grievance about this Bill is that it fails to give the much-needed attention to nutritional standards. It continues to view food supply as a separate social problem whereas it is not sufficient to bring about a certain minimum standard of life.  Raising the level of nutrition and the standard of living and improving public health are considered among the primary duties of the State in Article 47 of the Constitution.


With this realization, we may start with guaranteed food supply. For, this will inevitably force the Government, the corporate sector, and the people to deal with several other social-economic problems which are causes and/or consequences of food deficiency but are blatantly neglected at present.


One of these relates to diversion of agricultural land to industrial purposes.  Whatever be the compulsions of globalization, the country cannot afford to import essential food products and must aim to be self-sufficient. The farmers’ sentimental attachment to land has economics behind it.  Another problem is storage which has led to criminal wastage of foodgrains and bitter remarks of the Supreme Court recently. It is strange that governmental economics does not allow free distribution of foodgrains but allows wastage and decay for want of proper storage facilities.


True, insistence on a holistic approach may delay even a beginning towards the idea of “food for all”. But, preoccupation with food security should not result in food import, malnutrition, unbalanced diet, etc. It seems that a certain amount of wider approach in the matter should follow the first step of basic food security for all. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News ^ Feature Alliance)




















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