After a lot of debate, the Indian cabinet finally cleared the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) amidst doubts of whether this would really help create a hunger-free India. According to the Food Security Bill, India will need 60 – 61 million tons of grain to feed people who will be eligible for assistance. This means food subsidies will increase to about $18.05 billion in the first year of implementation. The government will also have to increase their spend on agricultural production.
India has some of the worst statistics when it comes to hunger – according to the Global Hunger Index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute, Indian is ranked 66th among 88 vulnerable countries. This ranking comes despite the currently ongoing Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) which entitles every citizen subsidized food. The PDS caters to 65 million families below the poverty line (BPL) and 115 million other families above the poverty line (APL).
Leading food columnist, Devinder Sharma has argued that: “The PDS – on paper – meets the food requirement of 900 million people. If this is true, I see no reason why the country should have the largest population of hungry in the world. If the PDS had been even partially effective, there should have been no reason for Punjab – and for that matter Kerala, the best performing States in terms of hunger – to be ranked below Gabon, Honduras and Vietnam. Extending the same failed PDS to more families, or introducing a revamped PDS is therefore unlikely to make any meaningful difference to the plight of the hungry and malnourished.”
The current food security bill proposes to do more or less the same thing as the PDS but is somehow costing the country more. Leading economists say that the bill is bad timing as there is a slowdown in the Indian economy, partly due to the European crisis and the NFSB would put further fiscal strain on the country’s resources. However, there is the bigger concern that the bill will not make any difference to the current situation in alleviating hunger.
The hunger situation in India can only be alleviated through a program at a sub-national level. A grass roots inventory of food supplies and distribution systems is needed in order to target the most needed communities. In spite of it’s largely agricultural economy, India’s farmers have tremendously difficult jobs and low wages. Unless this is rectified, addressing food security is pointless. Education at rural levels should cater to rural lifestyle – the growing trend of establishing sub-par engineering and medical colleges in rural areas not only diverts farmlands that are desperately needed but educates children of farmers in education streams that do not fetch jobs. Instead, establishing agricultural colleges that teach sustainable farming, permaculture, organic practices should become a priority, so that the farming community can take pride in their local knowledge and heritage. More research on indigenous crops that resist drought and are nutrient dense should be encouraged, reducing the dependence on rice and wheat. Community-based agricultural programs are needed even in urban areas to reduce transportation burden, as well as to ensure that people have access to nutritious food.
Indian food security needs deep introspection by governing bodies and not just a slap-dash effort or a temporary solution. With growing environmental and climatic pressures on agriculture, measures must be taken now to ensure that hunger is eradicated.
Image Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©