To the hungry, god is bread

M. S. SWAMINATHAN, Opinion: Lead, October 1, 2011

The National Food Security Bill, 2011, designed to make access to food a legal right, is the last chance to convert Gandhiji’s vision of a hunger-free India into reality.

What Mahatma Gandhi said of the role of food in a human being’s life in a 1946 speech at Noakhali, now in Bangladesh, remains the most powerful expression of the importance of making access to food a basic human right. Gandhiji also wanted that the pathway to ending hunger should involve opportunities for everyone to earn their daily bread, since the process of ending hunger should not lead to the erosion of human dignity.

Unfortunately, this message was forgotten after Independence, and government departments started referring to those being provided any form of social support as “beneficiaries.” The “beneficiary” tag is also being applied to the women and men who toil for eight hours under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Sixty-five years after Gandhiji’s Noakhali speech, India is still home to the largest number of under nourished and malnourished children, women and men in any country. The number of people going to bed partially hungry now is more than the entire population of India in 1947.

Recent articles by P. Sainath in The Hindu (September 26 and 27, 2011) brought out vividly the extent of deprivation and destitution prevalent in rural India. Rural deprivation and agrarian distress lead to the growth of urban slums and suffering. The Planning Commission’s submission before the Supreme Court on the amount of money needed per day per person in urban and rural India to meet needs in the areas of nutrition, education and health care (Rs.35 a day in urban India, and Rs.26 in rural India) showed how divorced this important body has become from real life.

At least there is a ray of hope in the draft National Food Security Bill, 2011 put on the website of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, now under the charge of the humanist, Professor K.V. Thomas. This draft will go through a Select Committee of Parliament. I hope that the final version — designed to make access to food a legal right rather than remaining a token of political patronage — will help erase India’s image as the land of the malnourished.

The stated aim of the draft Bill is “to provide for food and nutritional security, in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices, for people to live a life with dignity.” To realise this, we must ensure that every child, woman and man has physical, economic and social (in gender terms) access to a balanced diet (that is, the needed calories and protein), micronutrients (iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12 and so on), as well as clean drinking water, sanitation and primary health care.

A life cycle approach to food security will imply attention to the nutritional needs of a human being from conception to cremation. The most vulnerable but neglected segment is the first 1,000 days in a child’s life — the period from conception to the age of two, when much of the brain development takes place.

Obviously the child during this period can be reached only through the mother. Therefore, the life cycle approach to food security starts with pregnant women. The high incidence of children with low birth weight (less than 2.5 kg) is the result of maternal and foetal undernutrition. Such children suffer from handicaps in later life, including impaired cognitive ability. Denying a child even at birth an opportunity for the full expression of its innate genetic potential for physical and mental development is the cruellest form of inequity. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) will have to be redesigned and implemented in two time frames (0-2 and three to six years).

From the legal rights viewpoint, the draft Bill addresses the issue of economic access to food. The other two components of food security — namely, availability of food, which is a function of production, and absorption of food in the body, which is a function of clean drinking water, sanitation and primary health care — cannot easily be made legal entitlements. To make food-for-all a legal right, it is necessary to adopt a Universal Public Distribution System (PDS) with common but differentiated entitlements with reference to the cost and quantity of foodgrain. The draft Bill adopts the nomenclature suggested by the National Advisory Council (NAC) and divides the population into priority, that is, those who need adequate social support, and general, that is, those who can afford to pay a higher price for foodgrain. The initial prices proposed are Rs.3, 2 and 1 a kg for rice, wheat and millet respectively for the priority group, and 50 per cent of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for the general group. In a Universal PDS system, both self-selection and well-defined exclusion criteria operated by elected local bodies will help eliminate those who are not in need of social support for their daily bread. In fact, it is the general group that should support financially the provision of highly subsidised food to the economically and socially underprivileged sections. In the case of the well-to-do, the aim of Universal PDS should be to ensure physical access to food.

The widening of the food basket by including a range of nutri-cereals (normally referred to as “coarse cereals”), along with wheat and rice is an important feature of the Food Security Bill. Nutri-cereals such as bajra, ragi, jowar, maize, constitute “health foods,” and their inclusion in the PDS, along with wheat and rice, will encourage their production by farmers. Nutri-cereals are usually cultivated in rainfed areas and are more climate-resilient. Hence, in an era of climate change, they will play an increasingly important role in human nutrition security. During 2010-11, India’s farmers produced 86 million tonnes of wheat, 95 million tonnes of rice and 42 million tonnes of nutri-cereals. The production of nutri-cereals, grown in dry farming areas, will go up if procurement and consumption go up. Thus, the addition of these foodgrain will help strengthen foodgrain availability and nutrition security.

The other components of the Bill that do not involve legal commitments, refer to agricultural production, procurement and safe storage of grain, clean drinking water and sanitation. The temptation to provide cash instead of grain to the ‘priority’ group should be avoided. Currency notes can be printed, but grain can be produced only by farmers, who constitute nearly two-thirds of India’s population. Giving cash will reduce interest in procurement and safe storage. This in turn will affect production. The “crop holiday” declared by farmers in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh is a wake-up call.

A committee set up by the Government of Andhra Pradesh and chaired by Dr. Mohan Kanda, pointed to the following factors behind the decision of a large number of farm families not to grow rice during this kharif season. First, the MSP on offer does not cover the cost of production; the MSP fixed by the Government of India was Rs.1,080 a quintal for common varieties, while the cost of production was Rs.1,270. Second, procurement is sluggish since it is largely being done by rice mills. Third, the late release of canal water, non-availability of credit and other essential inputs, and delayed settlement of crop insurance dues, are affecting the morale and level of interest of farm families. Thus, farmers are facing serious economic, ecological and farm management difficulties. The government should consider adopting as a general policy the formula suggested by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF), that MSP should be C2 plus 50 per cent (total cost of production plus 50 per cent).

Finally, the Bill provides for the creation of Food Security Commissions at the State and Central levels. The two essential ingredients of implementing the legal right to food are political will and farmers’ skill. Hence, State-level Food Security Commissions should be chaired by farmers with an outstanding record of successful farming. They will then help ensure adequate food supply to feed the PDS. At the national level, the composition proposed by the NCF in its final report submitted in October 2006 will help ensure adequate political will and oversight. The suggestion was to set up a National Food Security and Sovereignty Board at the Central level, with the Prime Minister chairing it. The other members could be the Union Ministers concerned, political party leaders in Parliament, a few Chief Ministers of grain-surplus and grain-deficit States, and leading farmers and experts.

Unless we develop and introduce methods to ensure effective political and farmer participation in implementing the Food Security Bill, we will not be able to overcome the problems faced by the PDS in some places arising from corruption in the distribution of entitlements.

The National Food Security Bill, 2011, provides the last chance to launch a frontal attack on poverty-induced hunger and to realise Mahatma Gandhi’s desire that the God of Bread should be present in every home and hut in India. We should not miss this opportunity.

(M.S. Swaminathan is Chairman, MSSRF, and Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha.)


When it has become the Mantra of Globalisation Privatisation Liberisation then to speak for the state trading both in retail and whole sale of food (which has been put aside deliberately) will sound like mad. We have plenty of food but the prices are high and why there is no price control? The wheat was allowed to rot inspite of Supreme Court’s advice to distribute them among the poor. What kind of Demand and supply theory is operating at the cost of people’s livelihood. How can the Govt allow to export of food grains , vegetables for few dollar keeping the people of our country hungry! The prices are rising every day and the purchasing power of the people reducing day by day. We are under the mercy of the market forces. There is local proverb in Gujarat meaning when the ruler becomes business man then the people become beggar. The first step is to control the price hike of all essential commodities and the state trading both in retail and whole sale be introduced with out delay
from:  Dwarika Nath Rath
Posted on: Oct 1, 2011 at 00:53 IST 

A very nice article but makes an implicit assumption that our PDS are run by people who really care about people, poor in particular. Most of the grains available for PDS is sold through black market. I think, the system adopted in France is much better. In France, the people with lesser income are provided assistance for their accommodation and supporting their family. However, these assistance is directly paid to their respective bank accounts and/or their landlord. The department gets the income details from the Income tax department. The only time the people have to visit this department is when there is a change in family status or when he registering for the first time. This way, the people can opt for quality food from the shop of their choice. This is also economical to the GoI, since it can manage a lesser workforce.
from:  Sivasathivel Kandasamy
Posted on: Oct 1, 2011 at 02:28 IST 

Not to say a brillant article by the proponent of Green revolution in India.what i would like to add over here is the structural aspect of the problem of Food security.The first and foremost is the defective preparation of BPL list.In many States, entire communities have been left out, and almost everywhere, there are enormous exclusion errors.For targeted PDS it is very important to have right group with you even if you are going for near universal PDS.Second is the diversion of land for nonagricultural purposes and inadequate irrigation facility to the avialable cultivable land which affects the overall productivity of the land severely.Thirdly the average size of land holdings is very small and is subject to fragmentation due to land ceiling acts. Such small holdings are often over-manned, resulting in disguised unemployment and low productivity of labour.The easily visible problem is the lack of Modern agrcltrl practices and what we need is a cmprhsve agr policy & FSA
from:  Amandeep
Posted on: Oct 1, 2011 at 03:32 IST 

This is a very insightful analysis of the food security bill. However, there are a couple of issues missing. First, while equitable access to food is a desirable goal, it’s also important to define what is food (versus fuel) and how much of it should be made accessible to whom. The other issue I think quite complex and possibly should be another topic of an essay is, what is the opportunity cost of food versus other perceived needs. We have seen how people prefer cell phones and TVs to access to clean toilets and safe drinking water. There needs to be a nationwide awareness campaign about what is really necessary in life including food and nutrition, and their appropriate prices. There is hope about the National Food Security Bill 2011 as MS Swaminathan writes here.
from:  Arin Basu
Posted on: Oct 1, 2011 at 04:24 IST 

Time and again, it has been shown that any “hand-out culture” distorts production, distribution, consumption and national economics, divides society, lowers self-belief, harms self-reliance, diminishes self-respect, etc. While there may be an emergency need to safeguard citizens from suffering and even death from malnutrition and starvation, the planning aims ought to remain focused on the basics – on the demand side: enabling citizens to be able to engage in economic activities to “earn a decent wage and generally to fend for themselves”, and on the supply side: to increase production, streamline efficient distribution, eradicate black-marketing/adulteration, etc. On educational front the State must set nutritional standards of healthy diets, restrict commercial exploitation by promoting fads/junk foods. Long-term, paternalistic, charity leads to dependence, while laissez faire philosophy in economics smacks of indifference, even callousness. Public participation & commitment a must.
from:  Mahapatra
Posted on: Oct 1, 2011 at 05:44 IST 

Very important and relevant comments. But will the present leadership dreaming of making India a superpower worry about this? No where in the world will you see the rich and the ‘well offs’ so callous. After all this is the only country where Laxmi is worshipped!
from:  P M Vishwanath
Posted on: Oct 1, 2011 at 05:51 IST 

Swaminathan’s article is a beautiful piece which is actually a guide for action.Bread must but with dignity,i hope politician and bureaucracy are listening. They have not forgotten Gandhi but trying to remember him only as a statue instead of speaking Mahatma.
from:  Sukhinder Singh Dhaliwal
Posted on: Oct 1, 2011 at 08:33 IST 

This is the last trial of our government to secure the very basic pillar of food security. Earlier the planning commission’s report has ridiculed the concept of welfare if the food security bill get passed it should be make ensure to distribute the god of bread under the fairer PDS SYSTEM.we are very optimistic towards the bill.
from:  Prinki rawat
Posted on: Oct 1, 2011 at 08:38 IST 

Planning Commission ropes in McDonald’s to eradicate poverty

New Delhi. Heralding a new era in public-private partnership, Planning Commission has decided to partner with fast-food restaurant chain McDonald’s in an attempt to remove poverty from India. McDonalds will soon give employment to a poor Indian and pay him one McAloo Tikki™ in kind, which costs at least 20 rupees even during Happy Hours, thus meeting the threshold set by the Planning Commission to identify urban poor.

“Since India is growing at a rate of at least 9 percent, we are hopeful of at least one McDonald’s outlet in each urban Indian city soon,” Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission said after undertaking some complex mathematical calculations, “Clearly McDonald’s would need more employees and we thought it was a perfect opportunity for us to join hands.”
If a person alive in India can afford this Tikki, and only this Tikki and nothing else for the whole day, he is not poor.
As per the agreement between the government and the fast-food restaurant chain, McDonald’s will be given a list people living below poverty line in the vicinity of an outlet, and the restaurant will then employ them gainfully for a salary of one McAloo Tikki™ a day. Since the market price of one such Tikki is at least 20 rupees, the employee would thus no longer remain poor in the eyes of the government.
Sources at McDonald’s confirmed the partnership and expressed confidence of employing all such urban poor at their outlets.
“Anyone not earning even 20 rupees a day is surely quite hungry. We can easily give such a person a job of cleaning the leftovers,” a McDonald’s official said, “We get a lot of urban rich at our outlets who order more than they can eat.”
The official clarified that US based McDonald’s would never get into such an arrangement with the US government as the poverty threshold in US was at least 30 US Dollars per day and non-cash benefits were not counted as income while measuring poverty.
“But India is not US; even the government here has clarified it many times recently,” the official pointed out.
McDonald’s could launch this employment scheme at their Colaba outlet in Mumbai next weekAn intensive manhunt to find a person earning below 20 rupees per day and alive in the area has been launched by the CBI for this purpose. No success was reported till reports last came in.

But the government has dismissed such issues as teething problems and hopes to kick off the partnership in other cities soon. Post this arrangement, government is hopeful of bringing down the number of urban poor to levels matched by those in developed countries, thus paving the way for India to become an economic superpower.


Producing Under nutrition-talk by Dr. Veena Shatrugna on 18th June

he  nutritional  status  of  the  poor  in  India maybe  described  as  alarming.

Most  of  the  indicators  of  nutrition  status  such  as  adult weights,  heights  BMI,  percentage  of children who  are  severely malnourished, mean  birth weights,  infant mortality  rates,  dietary intakes and unacknowledged starvation deaths confirm this  fact.  Hunger  is as widespread as  it is invisible to the scientific eye.  The question that must be asked is how did India get into this trap of under nutrition with such serious consequences?

Chronic hunger as it exists in India can be largely traced to the rapid scientific advances in the area of food and nutrition analysis, and classification. In addition, from 1940s, the dietary requirements of populations was laid out in terms of calories, with the assumption that foods which are culturally and regionally appropriate such as rice, eggs, milk, fowl, pulses, fish, greens, etc. would be consumed in quantities  which  would  provide  calories  and  all  the  other  nutrients.    Nutrition  research  in  the  50s  and  60s,  though  brilliantly innovative and deeply committed to the welfare of Indians, simplified the science of food further, with indices and correction factors, using concepts like consumption units, biological value of proteins, RDA based on calories, calorie needs of workers, vegetable sources of proteins etc., which then became subjects for scientific research and fed into nutritional policy. Over a short period, these concepts were recast and deployed in administrative initiatives that systematically transformed the diets of the poor in India to plain cereals as the major source, or perhaps the only source of calories, devoid of any other nutrient. The consequences of this cereal overload and nutritional depletion have been  far reaching, and are responsible  for a  large measure of  the profile of  ill health, and the epidemic of chronic diseases in India.

This presentation  is an attempt  to  trace  the steps  in scientific and administrative  thinking and policy that  led to  the nutritional and health impasse the people of this country are in.

The speaker is Dr. Veena Shatrugna who has spent 34 years at the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, doing research on the nutrition questions as they impact women and children in India.  She has also worked in the area of women’s health, and has authored “Savaa laksha Sandhehalu”, a self%help book for women in Telugu with a women’s collective called Stree Shakti Sangathana. She has also written “Taking charge  of  our Bodies”  in English with  the  same  group  of women.  She  is  a member  of Anveshi,  a Women’s  studies  organisation  based  in  Hyderabad.


Food justice in a resource-constrained world

Read full report (PDF 3.69MB)

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Growing a Better Future catalogues the symptoms of today’s broken food system and warns that we have entered a new age of crisis where depletion of the earth’s natural resources and increasingly severe climate change impacts will create millions more hungry people.


The global food system works only for the few – for most of us it is broken. It leaves the billions of us who consume food lacking sufficient power and knowledge about what we buy and eat and the majority of small food producers disempowered and unable to fulfil their productive potential.

The failure of the system flows from failures of government – failures to regulate, to correct, to protect, to resist, to invest – which mean that companies, interest groups, and elites are able to plunder resources and to redirect flows of finance, knowledge, and food.

This report describes a new age of growing crisis: food price spikes and oil price hikes, devastating weather events, financial meltdowns, and global contagion. Behind each of these, slow-burn crises smoulder: creeping and insidious climate change, growing inequality, chronic hunger and vulnerability, the erosion of our natural resources.

Based on the experience and research of Oxfam staff and partners around the world and, Growing a Better Future shows how the food system is at once a driver of this fragility and highly vulnerable to it, and why in the twenty-first century it leaves 925 million people hungry.

The report presents new research forecasting price rises for staple grains in the range of 120–180 per cent within the next two decades, as resource pressures mount and climate change takes hold.

Growing a Better Future supports a new campaign with a simple message: another future is possible, and we can build it together.

Author: Robert Bailey
Publication date: 31 May 2011

Why India is Losing its War on Hunger

Why India is loosing its war on hunger (download)

India is home to a quarter of the world’s hungry people. Since the Green Revolution, the country has produced enough food to feed itself, but it has not yet been able to wipe out mass hunger. Currently, 40 per cent of the population is malnourished – a decline of only 10 per cent in the past three decades.

Stellar economic growth has not delivered on its promise for poverty reduction and food security. Following a series of neoliberal economic reforms in 1991, India’s GDP has doubled, but despite this, 53 million more people now go to bed hungry every night.

To make matters worse, food prices have recently soared. Poor families, who spend more than 60 per cent of their incomes on food, are increasingly struggling to stretch their meagre household budgets.

Unfortunately, small-scale producers have not benefited from high retail prices for food either, as they usually low prices for their produce. Clearly, the country is in the midst of both an agrarian crisis and a nutrition crisis.

Oxfam International Case Study

Author: Swati Narayan, Independent food and education policy specialist

UPA neglects Agriculture the most

Submitted by editor on Sat, 10/25/2008 – 18:27

Rajnath Singh
India today is on the brink of a protracted recession. Almost every economic indicator in the country is putting immense pressure on all economic activities in the country and painting a gloomy picture of our economy. Inflation is in high double digits, GDP growth rate is faltering, Industrial growth rate has touched a record low of 1.3 percent and the growth of our agriculture sector has turned bad to worse.

Declining capital formation and steep reduction in public investment in agriculture sector during the UPA rule has led to a complete stagnation of Agricultural growth in India. In other words the UPA Government has proved to be a big disaster on the economic front.

Agriculture is considered a recession proof sector as it does not face decline in demand even in a worsening situation. Being a predominantly agrarian society, India has the potential and resources to deal with any challenge posed by recessionary atmosphere in the world.

Eminent thinkers and economists around the world have started chalking out detailed action plans for agriculture and predicted that food security will be the top agenda of all the Governments in future. It clearly indicates that the world is now awakening to the growing importance of strengthening agriculture sector but the UPA Government’s slumber has deepened further.

By pursuing disoriented and confused economic policies the UPA Government has jeopardized our national food security. No wonder, India’s record on hunger today is worse than that of nearly 25 sub-Saharan African countries and all of South Asia, except Bangladesh.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)’s 2008 Global Hunger Index says that with over 200 million people insecure about their daily bread, Indian scenario is ‘alarming’ in terms of hunger and malnutrition.

According to the World Development Report, “To reduce poverty and hunger, the growth of the agricultural sector is the only solution.” But the higher cost of production without a corresponding increase in prices has made agriculture a non viable profession in India.

In the absence of remunerative prices, coupled with lack of timely, affordable and adequate credit and high interest rates have forced the helpless farmer either to quit farming or to commit suicide. More than five thousand farmers committed suicide in different parts of the country.

The Prime Minister’s ‘Vidarbha Package’ for the farmers has failed to address the key issues. The farmer’s loan waiver scheme also met the same fate as it left majority of the farmers agitated and disgruntled.

Both these schemes have proved to be a cruel joke on farmers and the Congress led UPA Government will have to pay a heavy price for it in forthcoming assembly elections and the General Elections scheduled next year.

The UPA Government has remained unconcerned over the gravity of the situation and adopted a casual approach while dealing with a sensitive subject like Agriculture.

I am happy to note that the BJP ruled states have performed better than the Congress led Governments on the agriculture front.
We have the shining example of Gujarat State before us which registered a remarkable 13 percent growth in agriculture in comparison to meager national agriculture growth of nearly 1.8 percent.

After coming to power the BJP led NDA Government will introduce a paradigm shift in agriculture where it will synthesise the old and the new, and focus on the economics of small land holdings.

The BJP will increase the quantum of public investment in agriculture and mandate banks to earmark 30% of their total loans for credit to the agriculture sector. We will take immediate steps to see that the farmers be given loans at not more than 4% interest for agriculture and allied activities.

The NDA Government at the Centre will implement the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers and assure the farmer of actual cost of production plus 50% over and above this cost as the MSP for his produce.

BJP led NDA Government will also implement Farm Income Insurance Scheme to ensure guaranteed income to all farmers in the country.

India facing economic terrorism

UPA Government’s soft and weak-kneed approach to deal with terrorist activities is a fact well known. Unfortunately the issue of internal security which warrants national consensus among all political major political parties and other prominent stake holders in our society has become a casualty of UPA Government’s vote bank politics.

During the 42 months of UPA rule terrorists and anti-India forces have galvanised its cadres and gained strength to strike India anywhere, anytime and at will. They have developed a multi-pronged strategy to damage India at every possible level. Recently we have witnessed a big surge in circulation of fake Indian currency notes in the country. It is well thought strategy of anti-India forces to unleash economic terrorism in the country.

Pakistan’s intelligence agency the ISI has pumped in counterfeit currency worth billions of Rupees into India through Bangladesh and Nepal borders. According to recent estimates by a Government panel, fake currency worth 1 lakh 69 thousand crores Rupees are already in circulation.

Fake currency notes have been recently confiscated in many States. Even at the branches of the Nationalised banks and their ATM’s fake currency notes have been confiscated. Counterfeit currency is being used to fund terrorist operations. I urge the present dispensation at the Centre to take effective steps to plug the supply of fake currency notes in India.

The BJP demands the Government that it should come out with a white paper on circulation of fake currency in India.

MP at bottom of hunger pyramid

BS Reporter / New Delhi October 15, 2008, 0:31 IST

Madhya Pradesh, which reported deaths of malnourished children last month, has the most severe level of hunger in the country and ranks between African countries Ethiopia and Chad, according to a global hunger index released today by the International Food Policy Research Institute in conjunction with Welthungerhilfe (formerly known as German Agro-Action) and the University of California, Riverside.

MP is followed by Jharkhand and Bihar, according to the first-ever India State Hunger Index, which was released along with the global index. Punjab and Kerala scored the best.

The Indian state hunger index analyses hunger levels in 17 major states and scores range from “serious” to “extremely alarming”. It measures hunger on three leading indicators and combines them into one index. The three indicators are prevalence of child malnutrition, rates of child mortality and the proportion of people who are calorie deficient.

The index for India found that not a single state in India fell in the “low hunger” or “moderate hunger” categories. Twelve states fall in the “alarming” category, and one state — Madhya Pradesh — falls in the “extremely alarming” category. Four states — Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam — fall in the ‘serious‘ category.

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