Sunday, Apr 22nd

Last update:10:48:02 PM GMT

You are here: Economics Poverty & Food Mgmt. Food Security: Need to establish food democracy

Food Security: Need to establish food democracy

E-mail Print PDF

Over one billion hungry people go to bed every day all over the world; this can be termed as our most tragic achievement in modern days. We have to reclaim our right to food, nutrition and food safety. The need is to produce food where the poor and hungry live and to boost agricultural investment in these regions. Food democracy is the new agenda for ecological sustainability and social justice. The FAO World Food Summit in 1996 had concluded that about 840 million people (15 per cent of population)are undernourished and that under current prospects this would only reduce to 680 million by 2010 (10 per cent ofworld population). This would be 18 per cent of the population in the most vulnerable countries where 3 billion people would live (out of a world population of about 6.8 billion in 2010). The report also highlighted the fact that a third of children (nearly 180 million) are malnourished and this may drop to quarter worldwide by 2020 and remain at 40 per cent in South Asia, a third of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa will be food insecure by 2010. This report and the subsequent reports of the FAO and other major international agencies have continuously underlined the impending problem before the world which is now clearly coming to surface in major parts of the world with varying regional implications.

food Food security is access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. This implies individual access in all seasons and all years not just for survival but for active participation in society. Further discussions on defining food security have been summarized by Maxwell (1998) as identifying livelihood security as a necessary and often sufficient condition for food security and focuses on the long term viability of the household as a productive and reproductive unit. Maxwell and others now favour the quality of the food entitlement (rather than just the quantity) where the emphasis is more on subjective assessment and on the nutritive value of the food being secured to the individuals. A country and people are called food secure when their food system operates in such a way as to remove the fear that there will not be enough to eat. In particular, food security will be achieved when the poor and vulnerable, particularly women and children and those living in marginal areas, have access to the food they want. Thus food security is a multi-objective phenomenon. The concerns on food security progressed over the last 50 years or so have been purely from physical availability at the global level to the provisions of food to individuals and the role of poverty in ensuring year round access to food. The interaction between agriculture/food policies and socioeconomic factors at the micro and macro-level is now considered crucial to ensuring food availability.

M. S. Swaminathan has divided the post-war era into four phases
(a) 1940/60s - Food security was only considered in physical availability terms; (b) 1970s - Economic access to food was considered equally important; (c) 1980s - Food security was considered at the level of the individual and not merely of the household; and (d) 1990s - Recognition that micronutrients in addition to environmental hygiene and safe drinking water are important.
In adopting any growth model that ensures global food security sufficient amount of flexibility, adaptability, diversification and resilience should be there in policy formulation and implementation. Thus food security must be treated as a multi-objective phenomenon where the identification and weighting of objective should be decided by the food insecure themselves.

Causes and consequences
Today, the food system no longer responds to the nutritional needs of people, nor to sustainable production based on respect for the environment, but is based on a model rooted in a capitalist logic of seeking the maximum profit, optimization of costs and exploitation of the labour force in each of its productive sectors.The on-going food crisis has left 925 million hungry, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This figure is expected to rise to 1.2 billion hungry in 2017, according to the US Department of Agriculture. But in fact, the current food crisis is already affecting directly or indirectly half of the population worldwide, more than three billion people. A report released by a US based group claimed that South Asia continues to face critical levels of hunger. The report also highlighted that the current hot spots of hunger and under-nutrition are in South Asia and Sub- Saharan Africa. While there has been a dramatic improvement in South Asia, the region remains an area of great concern. The rising food prices and ensuing food scarcity has led to hunger riots in the countries of Africa and many Asian nations, as it is precisely the basic commodities that feed the poor which have experienced the biggest price rise. In countries like Haiti, Pakistan, Mozambique, Bolivia, Morocco, Senegal, Bangladesh and Niger people have come out onto the streets to say “ENOUGH”. Such food/hunger riots have left dozens of people dead and wounded.

Short Term Causes: There are conjectural reasons which partially explain this dramatic increase in food insecurity in recent years: droughts and other meteorological phenomena linked to climate change in producer countries like China, Bangladesh and Australia and India that have affected crops and will continue impacting on food production. From my point of view, there are two short-term causes which have been determinant in rising food prices and should be highlighted: the increase in the price of oil since 2007, which would have had an effect directly or indirectly, and growing speculative investment in raw materials. Both factors have finally unbalanced an agro-food system which was extremely fragile.

Structural causes: If we look beyond these short term causes, there are various underlying reasons that explain the current food crisis. The neoliberal policies applied indiscriminately in the course of the last thirty years like trade liberalisation at all costs, privatization of public services and goods and so on and the model of agriculture and food at the service of a capitalist logic bear the primary responsibility for this situation. We can thus say that we are facing a deeper systemic problem with a global food model which is extremely vulnerable to economic, ecological and social shocks.The WTO policies forced developing countries to eliminate tariffs on imports, end protection for and subsidies to small producers and open their borders to the products of transnational corporations while the markets of the North remained highly protected. In the same way, regional treaties like the and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) deepened trade liberalization, leading to bankruptcy for the farmers of the developing and under developed nations and made them dependent on food imports from the countries of the West. American and European agricultural subsidies, directed mainly towards the agro-food industry, obliterate the small local producer. This support to agribusiness accounts for a quarter of the value of agricultural production in the US and 40 per cent in the European Union.Thus the economic “development” policies driven by the Western countries from the 1960s onwards (Structural adjustment programmes, regional free trade treaties, the World Trade Organization and agricultural subsidies in the West) have led to the destruction of food systems and have continuously increased the food insecurity threat for the people of the developing and poor nations.
The Corporate Food System is another blow to the global food security. “Food economy” has made the corporates rule the trade in food items. In effect, the rich countries are ruling the roost and the poor nations already reeling under severe poverty and hunger, bear the brunt of the trade in food. The corporates have found another way in terms of investments in food items which has made the food market speculative, often leading to inflation. The result is unbearable for the poor. La Via Campesina is an international farmers’ organization that talks of New Localism in agriculture sector, giving the farmers’ their rights in food security instead of the intervention of multi-national corporations.

Financial Crisis and Food Crisis
The year 2007 and 2008 witnessed the biggest international financial crisis since 1929. The crisis of subprime mortgages in mid-2007 was one of its detonators, leading to historical stock exchange collapses worldwide, numerous financial bankruptcies, constant unprecedented interventions by central banks and government bailouts, and an unprecedented deterioration of the real economy.The financial and food crises are interlinked and are the result of the same policies of deregulation. With the crisis of high risk mortgages in 2007 investors began to seek safer places to invest, like agricultural products and oil. This led to the increase in the prices of food and agricultural supplies, contributing to the situation of food crisis and pushing 2008 prices upward.

Indian Scenario
India is one of the fastest growing economies of the world. The fast growth that India has achieved in the last several years has placed India as a key player in the global economy. In the year 1997, the then President Shri K. R. Narayan listed our adherence to a democratic system of governance and our launching of a green revolution in agriculture as the two most important achievements of the first 50 years of our tryst with the destiny. In the past concerted efforts have been made by India to achieve food security by increasing food grain production. Thanks to the Green Revolution India attained national food self-sufficiency 35 years ago through investment in technology, institutions and infrastructure, but still 35 per cent Indians remain food insecure. In India the low income of the majority of the population and high food prices prevent complete food security for all. Another lacuna of the Indian food security scenario has been the drawbacks in our Public Distribution System. Surging food grain prices and worsening global supplies are challenging the food security in India. The grain yield of Indian farmers is not going up and there is growing gap between demand and supply. After three decades of relatively comfortable production and availability of food grains, India once again seems to be sliding back to those humiliating days of 1960’s we used to live from ship to mouth on imported wheat obtained from the USA. Though we are still away from that point but steeps need to be taken in right direction before we enter into dire consequential situation.

Reasons for RisingFood Insecurity in India
The problem of food insecurity in India is not of general systemic failure that arises due to a supply shortage. It is in fact more a problem where certain sector (mainly the rural agrarian population and the urban informal sector) suffer from a shortage of food in general climate of increasing production. It can easily be observed that the main determinant of food insecurity in India today are the shrinking of agrarian and informal sector incomes and failures (both due to policy framing as well as implementation) of support led measures to combat poverty. The latter includes the poor results yielded by the targeted public distribution system in most regions of the country. In spite of the significant progress that India has made in food production and sufficiency over the last 50 years, most of the rural population is still had to deal with uncertainties of food security on a daily basis year after year and even generation after generation. In aggregate over one fifth of India’s population suffers from chronic hunger.
The late 1960’s saw the Green Revolution and the production of food grains started yielding high results. But since then the North and North West India were deemed by public policy to become the grannies of India and other states such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Assam thrust into the role of cash crop production with a small amount of arable land being used for food grain cultivation. Agriculture with a regional thrust such as this has meant that over time there has developed an iniquitous pattern of food grain production. An often cited reason for an increase in hunger is the demand deflation that accompanies a lowering of agrarian incomes. It is true that in India the distribution of income within the population is more skewed that it was some decades ago. The rapid opening up of the agricultural sector to foreign competition has led to rise in rural poverty and a lowering of food security. The supply side issues to food security related to problems like drought and famines. These supply side cuts contribute to further exacerbate the already existing problems with dwindling agrarian incomes and a failing PDS by causing more hunger and poverty that arise due to shortage in production. Another reason for the fall in the availability of food is that our farm output is just not growing. Since the mid-1990s, the output has hovered around 415 million tonne. In the eight years between 1996 and 2004, when agriculture was growing at a low 2 per cent, there was, in fact, zero growth in food-grains. The neglect of government to made adequate investment in the country’s food storage system is another major reason for rising level of threat to the available food to the poor and hungry. The increase in population can be cited as another major reason for the rising food threat in India. India is the second populated state with more than billion living in it. It is projected that the population will increase to 1.3 billion in 2020, and would leave behind China in 2050 if the population growth remains unchanged. To feed the large population we require millions of tons of food grain. It is estimated that India would require 343.0 million metric tons of food grains in 2020 to feed the whole population. Environmental scientists believe that our climate is changing very fast. IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change) warned us that climate change could cause change in the pattern of rainfall and it will thus require special arrangements to make agriculture possible. Thus we are facing several new problems, of which the following are important:

  • First, increasing population leads to increased demand for food and reduced per capita availability of arable land and irrigation water.
  • Second, improved purchasing power and increased urbanisation lead to higher per capita food grain requirements due to an increased consumption of animal products.
  • Fourth, there is increasing damage to the ecological foundations of agriculture, such as land, water, forests, biodiversity and the atmosphere and there are distinct possibilities for adverse changes in climate and sea level.
  • Fifth, while dramatic new technological developments are taking place, particularly in the field of biotechnology, their environm-ental, food safety and social implications are yet to be fully understood.
  • Finally, gross capital formation in agriculture is tending to decline in both public and private sectors during the present decade. The rate of growth in rural non-farm employment has been poor.

The issue of food insecurity, especially in a developing nation like India, thus raises the twin problems of uncertain food production and unequal food distribution. The impact of unequal food distribution can have adverse effects on the rural and urban population living below the poverty line. Food insecurity is not only economic problem but also problem of non-humanity approach in India. The broader socio-economic context is marked by powerful poverty generating process like growing landlessness in villages, casualization of rural labour and proliferation of small and marginal holdings with severe constraints in raising agricultural productivity and growth. These processes operated along with weak rural programmes for supply of safe drinking water in adequate quantities, improved rural sanitation, provision of houses to the rural poor etc. The result is the growing development gap between what is described as India and Bharat.


Although there has been a large
number involved in agriculture, still three is a food crisis in India. In India, agriculture got its dimension during the green revolution period. This introduced several new scientific methods, which increased food production several folds. But still, 26 per cent of Indians live below the poverty line and several hundred die due to malnutrition. This section of the article tries to enumerate the ways and measures to achieve food security for all. Food security depends not only on production but also on policies and institutions that translate production into food availability, access and utilization by the population. There has a clear cut increase in the food production but the productivity of food has been stalling. The current food and agriculture policies are suboptimal to revive a second round of agriculture revolution in India. Food security can be achieved by increasing production and a combination of policies that improves domestic, regional and international trade along with programs that improve the quantity and quality of food consumed by the population. Increasing the accessibility of food depends on food prices and the income of the population. 
The present food crisis is due to lack of proper distribution and the trading system impeding free flow of food. Even increase in agricultural productivity also one of the solution for this problem. This should be based on integrating inputs and outputs-the supply of high yielding varieties of seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation, supported by credit alongside remunerative output prices. A second “green revolution” is essential to stimulate food production in many India. . It is crucial to ensure that farm and trade policies of developed countries do not artificially reduce the prices of their food grains. This makes it virtually impossible for farmers from developing countries to compete both in their own domestic markets, due to cheap food imports, and also in the international market. 
Technology can also play a key role in reducing the cost of production of commodities. The role of research in increasing the productivity of crops is crucial. With functional genomics, proteomics and recombinant DNA technology we can address simultan-eously the quantitative, qualitative and sustainability aspects of crop production. The recent development in the science of agriculture we are able to manage biotic and abiotic stresses and genetically modified crops provide opportunities for avoiding damage by drought, high temperature, floods and sea level rise caused by global warming and climate change. Thus “food for all” has now become an achievable goal, thanks to the new genetics which has opened opportunities for precision breeding and toolbox-made crop varieties.
Achieving higher yield levels is a long term process through focused research programs that use resources effectively, in the short run effective social welfare programs could reduce the severity of hunger. The social welfare programs need to implement effectively either individually or jointly. Effective monitoring of the food distribution system including the food for work programs can aid in redressing the food insecurity.

Trade can also play an important role in achieving national food security through appropriate policies that are designed to import food when we are in deficient and export when we harvest surplus. But achieving household food security will require higher levels of income for people who are unable to feed adequate quantity and quality of food.
To increase food production, area under agriculture should be increased. But rather than increasing, agricultural land is now being converted into industrial land. The recent example is of Singur, where thousand acre of agricultural land is converted into a car factory.
Urbanization is another problem. Agricultural lands are now being converted into housing plots and are converted into cities and towns. This has increased the pressure on agriculture. The need is to avoid such policy formulation which deliberately converts the agricultural land into commercial land. The poor and hungry should top the agenda of government policies. Solving the problem of food insecurity in India requires agro-ecological approaches. Blanket recommendations of technology and policy cannot be effective in solving localized food security problems. Thus there is a strong need to revisit the agricultural developmental strategies reorient them according to agro-ecological systems. The proposed National Food Security Bill can go a long way in addressing the problem of food security in India if formulated and implemented in its true contours. The proposed Food Security Act should combine the features of Food for Work and MGNREGA. The National Advisory Council (NAC) that is formulating the Bill has recommended that legal entitlements to subsidised food grains be extended to at least 75 per cent of the populations in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas. In the first phase, food entitlements should be extended to 85 per cent of the rural population and 40 per cent of the urban population. Full coverage of food entitlements should be extended to March 2014. The NAC has suggested that Priority (BPL) should have monthly entitlement of 35 kg of subsidised food grains at Re. 1 per kg for millets, Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 3 per kg for rice.

The General (APL) households should have a monthly entitlement of 20 kg at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the current minimum support price for millets, wheat and rice. The draft Bill as suggested by the NAC also contains a provision for setting up a National Food Commission to ensure implementation of the proposed bill and enforcement of penalties for violations.

It is here suggested that the demands of the Civil Society groups and NGO’s should be taken with the propose of seeking an all-inclusive, universal public distribution system, fool proof delivery system and decentralised production of grains, procurement and distribution that address rampant malnutrition in the country.

At the institutional level we need to promote the organisation of Community Grain and Water Banks by the Village Panchaytas with the Gram Sabhas providing social oversight. Simultane-ously opportunities need to be enlarged for on-farm and non-farm employment through the bio village model of human centred development and improve the productivity and profitability of small farmers.
The world’s population is expected to reach to around 9 billion by 2050, global demand for food, feed and fibre will nearly double while, increasingly, crops may also be used for bioenergy and other industrial purposes. New and traditional demand for agricultural produce will thus put growing pressure on already scarce agricultural resources. And while agriculture will be forced to compete for land and water with sprawling urban settlements, it will also be required to serve on other major fronts: adapting to and contributing to the mitigation of climate change, helping preserve natural habitats, protecting endangered species and maintaining a high level of biodiversity.
We will need new technologies to grow more from less land, with fewer hands. Attaining long term food security will thus require the raising of incomes and making food affordable for the poor. This requires a multi-prolonged strategy. All the anti-poverty programs need to be made more transparent with better governance that minimizes leakages and benefits the poorest of the poor. Simultaneously the governments all over the world should take effective reforms to improve the agriculture by increasing the incentives, increasing the investment etc. so that agriculture production can be increased manifolds.