Apr 20, 2010

Food Security: What the Government Says And What We Want

Yesterday, I attended briefly a concluding seminar organised by the Right to Food campaign. It was a pleasant surprise to find a significant change in the approach the RTF campaign has now adopted, moving beyond the entitlement criteria to restructuring agriculture policies in such a way that it does not compromise on food security, livelihood security and thereby the right to food.

In June 2009, when I last attended a Right to Food seminar in the Gandhi Peace Foundation, I did express my dismay at the narrow focus of the campaign, which was somehow not willing to look beyond public distribution system, mid-day meals and anganwadi programmes. But since then, a lot of effort has been made by some of the grassroot leaders of the movement, to bring in focus on the real causes behind growing hunger as well as increasing marginalisation of the farming communities. Food security cannot be divorced from agriculture.

I am aware that the new position of right to food campaign is at a discomfort of some of the well-known faces of the movement, but I think this is a true reflection of democracy and people's participation. I hope the government also begins to listen directly to the new emerging leadership of the right to food campaign, which is more grounded to the existing realities. I have always maintained that when people take control, right solutions flow in.

A set of slides under the title -- Food Security: What the Government Says and What We Want -- says it all. There is still some room for improvement, as it is always, and I welcome your suggestions and inputs. I am highlighting some of the salient points that have been made (in addition to the entitlements, and the social security programmes mentioned):    

Food Security Must Ensure Nutritional Security and Health

We believe that basic services such as food, education, health, work and social security must be universally available for all. All residents of the country must be covered, and while arguing for universal services, further affirmative action is required for those who are socially excluded. To achieve this, it is suggested:

1. ICMR norms for moderately active male (2700 calories required) be followed

    Food grains -- 14 kg per month or 50 kg per family

    Edible oils -- 800 grams per month or 2.8 kgs per family

    Pulses -- 1.5 kgs per head per month or 5.25 kgs per family month

Inclusion of millets is essential because these are nutritious, healthy, cheap and often culturally preferred.

Food Security In A Vacuum

National Food Security Act povides food security without considering production aspects -- as if food procurement and food distribution can be divorced from production.

In reality, production, procurement and distribution have to be considered together.

Use an Expanded PDS to Revive Agriculture

There is a severe agricultural crisis in the country. Procurement for an expanded PDS will give a boost to production and can become an important instrument for the revatilisation of the farm economy.

Procurement from all mandis, so that all areas benefit from government procurement (not just major procurement from Punjab, Haryana, western UP, and AP as is now the case).

Procurement at MSP of millets, pulses and oilseeds etc to boost these crops which are now facing neglect due to low and uncertain prices and due to low investment.

These crops are easily grown in dryland areas and not water/input intensive.

Procurement should be at a fair and remunerative price.

Local Distribution of Local Procurement

Distribution of grain procured from beyond the district/zone should be resorted to only if there is a shortfall in local procurement. This will allow:

1. procurement, and therefore support to farmers, from all areas.

2. locally preferred grain to be distributed.

3. Drastically cut down storage and transportation costs.

4. Help curb corruption by allowing easier tracking of grain movement.

Policies To Increase Food Production, Consumption, Nutrition

1. Immediate ban on export of food until malnutrition ends in the country.

2. Protect farmers from 'dumping' of unfairly subsidised imports.

3. First call on all natural resources, including food and water, must be for food. No forcible diversion of land, water and forest resources away from food production.

4. Stop corporatisation of agriculture and control of food by agribusiness corporations.

5. Immediate moratorium on genetically modified (GM) seeds, GM food imports, and use of GM food in government food schemes.

6. All speculation and future trading in food items should be banned.

7. Government must eliminate the entry of corporate interests (including contract farming) and private contractors in food production, food market, regulatory bodies and nutrition-related schemes.

8. Government must not enter into any partnership with the private sector where there is a conflict of interest.

9. Government must ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all. 

Universal PDS: Availability of Funds

Compared to many wealthy nations including USA, Sweden etc. India has a very low tax GDP ratio (around 18 per cent compared to 28 per cent in USA and around 45-50 per cent for Scandinavian countries).

Even this very low rate is not realised. The tax foregone (waived) by the Central governemnt on Corporate Income tax, personal income tax, excise and customs was Rs 5,02,299 crores in 2009-10 (79.54 per cent of the aggregate tax collection), and it was Rs 4,14,099 crores (68.59 per cent of the aggregate) in 2008-09. This is about 11 times the current food subsidy bill.

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