Jul 12, 2009

The way to fight hunger -- lessons to ensure Right to Food

Yesterday, I attended a meeting in New Delhi of Right to Food campaign called in primarily to endorse a very weak and hastily produced draft. At first glance, the Right to Food Act 2009 -- the draft proposal -- looked more like a government proposal. I was utterly disappointed to read the draft, and I did walk up to the stage to convey my displeasure.

There were many in the audience who shared my displeasure. Some of them had stood up and raised their concern. I am glad that at the end (I was later told) the group decided to have a relook and formulated a fresh drafting committee. I only hope the Right to Food campaign, which has done some excellent work in recent past, stands up to the challenge and first widens its approach by including people who have been working on hunger-related issues for long, and secondly brings diverse voices and perspectives that can look at hunger beyond the Public Distribution System.

If you have read my earlier blog entitled Can India make hunger history? (July 10, 2009) I have raised the issues that need to be addressed if we really aim at achieveing Food-for-All. We will need to address the policy initiatives which actually lead to hunger and deprivation. Even if it calls for a paradigm shift in our approach, we must state that explicitly. There is no reason for the civil society to shy away from the onerous task by saying that we have to only take care of entitlements. I mean I can understand the government trying to say so, but that a section of the civil society also trying to behave like the government is something that I am sure we all cannot fathom.

I have time and again reiterated that we need to nip the evil in the bud. Let us try to pinpoint the causes of hunger, and impress upon the government to ensure that we do not end up with a food dole programme which becomes unsustainable in the days to come. We cannot and should not keep a nation standing there with a begging bowl. We need  to ensure that they become partners in the anti-hunger programme in a manner that they learn how to catch fish rather than being given a fish everyday.

Can we do it? Yes, we can do it. The tragedy is that there is a politcal will to do it but the intellectual support is lacking.

Several years back, I had suggested the concept of Village Republics. To quote from my paper: "Alternative Strategies for India's Development: Agriculture, Food and Hunger" (http://www.mindfully.org/Food/2004/India-Development-Sharma1aug04.htm), I had written:

Village RepublicsFocus on tackling the causes of poverty, hunger, the inequitable distribution of income and low human resource base with the objective of providing everyone with the opportunity to earn a sustainable livelihood. The green revolution areas are encountering serious bottlenecks to growth and productivity. Excessive mining of soil nutrients and groundwater have already brought in soil sickness. If the livelihood of the marginalised in the society (and that in the majority world is in agriculture) it must be secured by economic activities that are sustainable, that do not threaten the integrity of the environmental assets on which they depend. Food security and hunger are directly linked to the community’s control over the natural resources, and also on the long-term sustainability of the resource base.

Contrary to commonly made projections and assessments, hundreds of villages in rural India have made their own effort to chart a different but equitable path to growth and human development. Deviating from the mainstream approach, these villages have put up sign board outside the village boundary warning government officials and private company executives from entering their village. The reason: these villages have become self-reliant.

A conservative estimate based on different reports shows that close to 1500 villages have imposed self-rule and have declared themselves village republics. In these villages the residents have taken control over their natural resources – namely forest, land, minerals and water sources – and have formed strong institutions to manage them. They plan, execute and resolve all affairs inside the village and government officials and programmes are accepted only after getting approval of the residents through Gram Sabha (village assembly consisting of all adult members). In many such villages, the forest department, the police and other officials just execute programmes and plans chalked out in village meetings.

Self-reliant villages is the answer to India’s multiple and complex problems of food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition.

I am so gald to read today a similar example in the Sunday Express (July 12, 2009). In his column Thinking Aloud, Sudheendra Kulkarni talks about a village Hivre Bazar in the rural expanse of central Maharashtra. This village, once an epitome of poverty and hunger, now boasts of 50 millionaire families. You can read below how and why it happened. But the central message, as the author brings out clearly, remains in the recognition of the fact that jan, jal, and jungle are the key to making a village self-reliant, prosperous and harmonious.

I want to ask. Isn't this a more sustainable and harmonious way to make hunger history? If this can be achieved in a few hundred villages, why can't it be replicated all over India?

An ideal village, an inspiring leader

By Sudheendra Kulkarni
Sunday Express, July 12, 2009

The road from Parner to Hivre Bazar, in the rural expanse of central Maharashtra, passes through an arid land untouched by prosperity. The hills on the horizon are barren, suggesting that the Sahyadri range of mountains lose both their height and verdure in this rain-shadow region. It is difficult to imagine that located somewhere in this developmental desert is an oasis formed by a celebrated Ideal Village.

I have come to Parner to participate in the Guru Purnima celebrations of a youth organisation inspired by a spiritual guru, the late Ramachandra Maharaj Parnerkar. He propounded Poornavaad, a modernist interpretation of the Vedic philosophy, and I wish to write about him in a future column. But, upon being told that Hivre Bazar is only 30 km away, I cannot resist the temptation of visiting this village, which has won many state and national awards and become almost a place of pilgrimage for those interested in all-round rural development.

Seeing, they say, is believing. But, in this case, what I see exceeds the expectation. Hivre Bazar is a miracle in rural development that would have pleased Mahatma Gandhi, whose teachings inspired and guided the villagers in their endeavour. Here is a small village (only 257 families), which, 20 years ago, was perennially drought-prone. Half of its population of around 1,400 used to migrate to Mumbai and Pune in search of work in summer months. Nearly 90 per cent of the families were below poverty line. Alcoholism was rampant, and so were disputes and criminal activities.

Read the full article: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/an-ideal-village-an-inspiring-leader/488234/

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