Jan 6, 2012, 04.40AM IST
Q: Is food security just a concept or is achievable?
A: Of course it is attainable. There are three main issues. First is availability of food in the market. For which farmers have to produce more. Second is access to food, whether one has the money to buy it. That’s what the (food security) Bill aims to achieve. Third is absorption of food in the body, which is a function of clean drinking water. Drinking water is the most important component. That is why Rajiv Gandhi Water Mission, Total Sanitation Mission and National Rural Health Mission should be brought together under the food security Act. Otherwise, the child may eat a lot but, what we call leaky pot, yet not absorb the food.
Q: What should be the approach to ensure food for all?
A: One is the conception to cremation lifecycle approach. That is why there are different programmes such as the school meal programme, programmes for pregnant women and so on to feed right from conception stage to death. We have to enlarge the food basket through the public distribution system. Not only wheat and rice but nutria-millets such as jowar, ragi, bajra, madua should be included in the PDS. In China, out of over 500 million tones food grains, 140 million tones are nutria-cereals and millets. It is 50 to 60 million ton in our country. Secondly, women must be declared head of households for entitlement under the PDS and food security Act. They should be considered in-charge of food security in the family. That is important because women can ensure nutrition from newborns to the eldest in the family.
Q: How can cereals and millet production increase?
A: Procurement is the greatest stimulation for production. The more the government will procure, the famers will produce more. Farmers will increase production if the consumption capacity in the country increases. We should look at grains other than rice and wheat which are nutritious to have a big range. The crop holiday in Andhra Pradesh should be a wakeup call when farmers stopped production because there was no demand.
Q: Are you happy with Food Security Bill?
A: The Bill is somewhat defective in some respects. It calls for selective PDS. I personally believe there should be universal PDS as is in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The country should follow the principle of exclusion as against inclusion. Categorization of below poverty line (BPL), above poverty line (APL) and targeted PDS are controversial issues and there is large amount of corruption in such classification. One has to pay money to be a BPL. Why to get into those? There should be transparent criteria to exclude people. For example income tax payers, those who own a car and so on can be excluded from food security provisions. The proposed food security Act is the largest social protection against hunger anywhere in the world. Its success will depend upon how far we are able to reach all those who need food. In the current approach, lots of street children and the destitute will be left out.
Q: So what should be done?
A: I am pressing for the principal of exclusion. Besides putting a number of transparent criteria for excluding those from food security, selfexclusion should be the guiding principle. Tell people that those who do not need food should not ask for it. Even if you include a man who should be excluded doesn’t matter. But never should a deserving man be excluded. Freedom from hunger is freedom from corruption. The Bill must be based on a culture of honesty. Don’t develop a bill on a negative basis that people are always dishonest. The Bill has been referred to the select committee. I am sure it will take evidence from a large number of people and have a transparent criteria.
Q: Why are you a votary of traditional technology?
A: I am for combination of traditional and modern technologies, what is called eco technology. We must combine the good ecological principles of the past with the latest technology. Take for example Koraput, which was recognized as globally important agriculture heritage system. The conservation of biodiversity by tribals is commendable and is very important. Traditional wisdom is very relevant. Don’t destroy the good habits, rather build on previous knowledge. Don’t discard something because it is old or don’t worship something because it is new.We must ensure that technology is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.
Q: How come you got so much interested in Koraput?
A: I started my career in Central Rice Research Institute at CRRI Cuttack in 1954. Soon after my post-doctoral research at the University of Wisconsin, I had joined CRRI. I had visited Koraput many times then. The tribals protecting biodiversity should be encouraged more. This will help stop genetic erosion.
Q:What is the biggest challenge for food security?
A: Conservation of natural resources, mainly land and water, is the biggest challenge. Land is going out of agriculture. Real estate has become so expensive. This is becoming more important in the context of climate change.
Q: Are we prepared for climate change?
A: The world is not prepared so far. People need to be aware of the impact of climate change, which is real. Thousands of people living close to the sea coast will become climate refugees. The world must take anticipatory action to check the impact of high temperature, floods, and other fallouts of climate change. Diversification of food grains is also very important in context of climate change because one or the other of these can be produced in adverse climate conditions, which we don’t know as yet. The business as usual approach people must change.
Q: Do you foresee a workable solution to climate change?
A: Well, the solution has to be both technical and political. We need a synergy between science and public policy. Everybody starting from the grassroots level to the world leaders must be climate-change literate. Our foundation (MSSRF Foundation) has started a programme called ‘Every child is a scientist’. Not that everyone will grow to become a scientist. But everyone must have a questioning mind and understand what is biology, climate and so on.