Monday, July 20, 2009 21:23 IST
The proposed introduction of a Food Security Act by the UPA government is a welcome step. The Right to Food is the basis of the Right to life and Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life of all Indian citizens.
Given that India has emerged as the capital of hunger, given that per capita consumption was 178 kg in 1991, the beginning of the period of economic reforms, to 155 kg in 200-2003, and daily calorie consumption of the bottom 25 per cent of the population has decreased from 1683 kcal in 1987-88 to 1624 kcal in 2004-05, against a national norm of 2400 and 2011 kcal/day for rural and urban areas respectively, a response on the food in security front is a response to a national emergency.
However, the approach to food security has a number of blindspots and biases. The biggest one is neglecting food production and food producers as a core element of food security, from the household to the national level.
You cannot provide food to people if you do not first ensure that food is produced in adequate quantities. And to ensure that, the livelihood of food producers must be ensured. The right of food producers to produce food is the foundation of food security. This right has internationally evolved through the concept of “food sovereignty”.
Food sovereignty is derived from socio-economic human rights, which include the right to food and the right to produce food for rural communities. Two aspects of food security have disappeared in the current approach — firstly, the right to produce food, and secondly national food security. Our small farmers produce food for the country and have provided a nation of 1.2 billion with food security, and today they themselves are in distress.
The most tragic face of the agrarian crisis the country is facing is the suicides of over 200,000 farmers over the past decade. If our food producers do not survive, where is the nation’s food security? The second reason why India cannot afford to ignore the crisis of our food producers is because our rural communities face a deep crisis of hunger. Globally too, half of the hungry people of the world today are food producers.
This is directly related to the capital intensive, chemical intensive, high external input systems of food production introduced as the Green Revolution, and the second Green Revolution. Farmers must get into debt to buy costly inputs, and indebted farmers must sell what they produce to pay back the debt. Farmers’ suicides too are linked to the same process of indebtedness due to high costs of inputs. The solution to the hunger of producer communities is to shift to low cost sustainable agriculture production based on principles of agro ecology.
This food sovereignty of rural producers addresses hunger of rural communities as well as the hunger of those they feed. And for the same reasons, corporate farming and contract farming are false solutions in the context of the hunger and malnutrition crisis facing the country. As is the corporate takeover of food processing and attempted hijack of food security programmes such as Midday Meal schemes.
Government policies are biased in favour of the corporate sector. The proposal to shift from the PDS system to the food stamp or food voucher systems arises from this corporate bias. The assumption is that corporations will control the food supply, and the government will enable the poor to buy from corporations on the basis of food stamps and vouchers. However, the poor will then be condemned to unhealthy food as has happened in countries like the US.
The present paradigm has the bias that the poor can eat bad food. Good food is only for the rich. However, food security includes the right to safe, healthy, culturally appropriate and economically affordable food. Food stamps cannot guarantee this.
Further, the PDS system is not a one-sided system. It is both a food procurement and food distribution system. The dismantling and substitution by food vouchers will erode the food sovereignty of producers, abandon them to the vagaries of the market and finally destroy their livelihoods.
Adding 650 million rural people to the displaced and hungry will create a hunger problem no government and market can solve. That is why we must strengthen food sovereignty and the PDS system to strengthen food security. The proposal that the Centre will identify the poor goes against the federal structure of India’s Constitution.
As chief minister of Punjab Prakash Singh Badal has said, “States have to go like beggars to the Centre for everything. We have been reduced to glorified municipalities”.
A national food security systems needs to be based on the Constitution.Decentralisation is key to ensuring good and abundant food is produced on every farm and reaches every kitchen. Centralisation and corporate hijack of food go hand in hand. Decentralisation and food sovereignty go hand in hand.
The writer is an environmental activist