A few years back, at an interactive session on economy in Missouri, United States President George W Bush argued that, 'prosperity in countries like India is good but it triggers increased demand for better nutrition, which in turn leads to higher food prices and food crises.' However it is not true, though India is facing the problem of food crisis. According to The United Nations Population Fund, (UNFPA) report, India is projected to be the most populous country in the world by 2050, overtaking China. Its population, now 118.6 crores, is projected to be 165.8 crores by 2050. Increasing population growth and construction activities on agricultural lands is likely to reduce the area under agriculture. This can lead India towards food crisis.
This year, food security, scarcity and food riots combine came up for an open discussion in the month of March for the first time ever. That time Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) arranged a meeting which focussed on the riots around the world for seeking of food grains. Not only drought prone areas of Africa but also the rest of the developing countries are facing similar types of problems related to food and hunger.
Uttar Pradesh has always been a food surplus state in India. However, being one of the most populous states of India, it is more likely to face food crisis. According to the U.P. Human Development Report, 2007, U.P. ranked 15th in terms of per capita income out of the 18 major Indian states considered for the study. And its 32.8 percent of the population was below the poverty line in 2004-5. Every 6th malnourished child in the country lives in U.P. It is the third poorest state in India with a per capita annual income of US$200. Some 80 percent of the people in U.P. live in the rural areas; and 66 percent depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Rural women continue to be denied their rights of land holdings and other financial decisions. This makes them more vulnerable to food problems during famine, floods and recession time.
A survey done by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group in Uttar Pradesh revealed that 90 per cent of the agricultural work is being done by women farmers. However, despite this fact they are still fighting for their rights.
Dr Shiraj A Wajih, President, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group, said, " Now, it is high time that the Indian government realizes that those small scale farmers, who are the worst sufferers of liberal agro-economy, should be made a key to the solution of food crisis. The agricultural sector of India is mainly covered by small and marginal farmers. So our government should promote small scale agriculture. Besides, the agriculture sector should be solely covered by the public sector from investment to marketing and distribution. Even if there is any kind of corporate investment, it should be properly regulated by the public authorities."
He further said, "The Indian economy has been growing rapidly at an average of 8.5% over the last five years. This growth has been mainly confined to manufacturing industry and the burgeoning services sector. Agriculture, on the other hand, has grown by barely 2.5% over the last five years and the trend rate of growth is even lower if the past decade and a half is considered. Consequently, per capita output of cereals (wheat and rice) at present is more or less at the level that prevailed in the 1970s. The current crisis in Indian agriculture is a consequence of many factors - low rise in farm productivity, un-remunerative prices for cultivators, poor food storage facilities, high debt on farmers, pro-industry policy by the governments resulting in high levels of wastage, a fall in public investments in rural areas, especially in irrigation facilities."
Though India has not yet experienced riots over rising food prices that have hit other countries like Zimbabwe or Argentina, but what is worrying everybody is that the current rise in inflation is driven by high food prices.
The present crisis reveals that food has transformed from something that nourishes people and provides them with secure livelihoods into a commodity for speculation and bargaining. The defining feature of globalization that we are witnessing today lies in the change in the principle function of capital. Instead of being an investment for production, it is largely involved in short term speculative activities. The integration of the global food economy has resulted in food grains' metamorphosis into an object of speculation.
(The author is a Special Correspondent to Citizen News Service (CNS). Email: [email protected], website: www.citizen-news.org)