Food (in) Security

Although the proposed bill promises to end the food crisis, India’s230 million hungry population continues to starve
Zoya Rasul Delhi

Although India is the largest producer of agri-products including milk and diary and the second largest producer of rice, wheat and sugar, it is still home to 230 million hungry people. The starvation, as pointed out by the experts, is not due to food shortage but due to food wastage.

The World Environment Day this year, with its theme, “Think, Eat, Save, Reduce your food print” highlighted the issue of the food problem from national boundaries to the global spotlight, and also to save the climate from hazardous agricultural practices. “In 2012, the US Department of Agriculture estimated that world food production is sufficient to feed 13 billion people, which is more than double the requirement,” says Devinder Sharma, a distinguished food and trade policy analyst on the sidelines of the World Environment Day, here in the capital, adding “It is important to note that this alarming hunger situation is not caused by food shortage.” 

According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2012, calculated by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), India is ranked 65 out of 79 countries and is categorized as a country with ‘alarming’ GHI. GHI, which is calculated by taking into account undernourishment, child underweight and child mortality, suggests that about 43.5 percent of children under the age of five are underweight in India.

Even though the government has come up with a Food Security Bill in parliament which ensures to “provide food and nutritional security and access to adequate quantities of quality food at affordable prices”, experts find it as “far from being a comprehensible solution.” “Tons of grains rot in our granaries owing to poor storage facilities. Distribution process is also marred by corruption,” said Sharma. According to him, India needs to look beyond food entitlements and make necessary policy changes to ensure that agriculture is not only sustainable but also economically viable.

Sachin Kumar Jain, a Right to Food activist deems the crisis of food insecurity as “lack of political will”. "Right to live is our fundamental right which naturally entitles every Indian to the right of food. A Supreme Court order of 2008 has dispensed 35 kg ration for a family of five which has been reduced to 25 kg in the proposed bill. It will clearly demean the ruling of the apex court,” he said.

The draft bill is limited to the specific issue of food grains security (wheat and rice) and remains delinked from the larger issue of nutrition security. While entitlement to basic grains like wheat and rice can barely keep a person alive, it does little for the cause of fighting malnourishment. “Unless the government includes pulses (for protein) and edible oil (for fat) in the ration, a large part of our population will continue to live malnourished,” said Jain. “Of course, this will demand a tighter hand on corporate agriculture and pro-market interests and instead, putting the people first,” he added.

Although it remains to be seen as to how the National Food Security Bill will fight the monster of hunger and malnutrition, analysts like Devinder Sharma snub it as a “Vote Security Bill” and a mere “dressing up” on behalf of the government. As the bill gets delayed, more than 230 million people still go to sleep without food.