May 26, 2012

A hungry nation exports food. It can happen only in a democracy.


At a time when the total food stocks are likely to swell to a record 75 million tonnes by June 1, out of which nearly 25 million tonnes of the stocks will be piled up in the open for lack of storage space, the demand for allowing exports is already growing. Ministry of Commerce has already started an exercise to know how much quantity of wheat can be allowed for exports. 
 
It is a strange paradox of plenty. While on the one hand India is overladen with mounting food stocks, on the other nearly 320 million people go to bed hungry. The number of hungry and malnourished in India almost equals the entire population of America. When it comes to malnutrition, several studies have pointed out that nearly 50 per cent of children are malnourished. India fares worst than even sub-Saharan Africa. According to the 2011 Global Hunger Index India ranks 67 among 81 countries, sliding below Rwanda. 

With the per capita availability of foodgrains – including cereals and pulses – sliding to 441 grams per day in 2010, from a high of 480 grams in 1991 when the economic reforms began, it is quite evident that the extent of hunger is growing. Although an impression is being given that as incomes are seeing a rising trend, more people have shifted from cereals to nutritious foods like eggs, meat and fruits. This is however not correct. According to a 2010 report of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), the consumption of cereals as well as nutritious foods like fruits, milk and eggs too is falling in urban and rural areas. 

Continuously rising food inflation over the past several years has certainly widened the gap between the haves and have nots. Experts agree that for a large section of the population, buying two square meals a day is now becoming more difficult. In other words, hunger is becoming more acute. More and more people are going to bed hungry. I therefore don’t understand the logic of exporting food at a time when millions are living in hunger. 

The mounting food surplus is essentially because the poor and needy are unable to buy foodgrains even at below the poverty line prices. Ironically, while the poor live in hunger, India is contemplating exports. In 2011-12, with India’s rice exports touching 7 million tonnes, it has emerged as the biggest exporter of rice in the world. Opening up the export of wheat (it is banned at present) India will certainly join the ranks of the major food exporters, and in the process earn some foreign exchange. But the bigger question remains as to who will feed the hungry living within the country? 

There can be nothing more criminal for any hungry nation to export its staple food. It is the primary responsibility of the government, as enshrined in the Directive Principles, to ensure that every citizen is well-fed. Unfortunately what is not being realised is the declining fall in per capita availability of foodgrains matches the availability at the time of Bengal famine in 1943. Isn’t it sad that even after 70 years of Bengal famine, we still live in the shadow of hunger and starvation? How can any sensible nation therefore justify food exports? 

Food management essentially means distributing the available foodgrains among the poor and hungry. Export of staple foods therefore must be immediately stopped, and all out efforts have to be made to take the foodgrains to the doors of the hungry millions. This is the primary responsibility of every government. #

1 comment:

Unknown said...

On the contrary, be thankful that this the only thing that happened, and the fact that India is a democracy has a lot to do with it. For, central planning of food distribution has been one of the most disastrous policies ever followed by governments worldwide. Even world wars and the Holocaust pale in comparison with the destruction wrought by food planning - of the 100 million people perished under Communist regimes, a vast majority died due to avoidable famines that occurred as a direct result of central planning. Such horrors may never occur in India, and thank India's democracy for that! But we never learn from those great lessons of history: as recently as 2010, Venezuela nearly ran out of essential commodities while food rotted away in state owned warehouses. Today food is rotting away in India's state owned warehouses. Expect food planning disasters to mount as the clamour for statism reaches a crescendo.

That we have avoided famines hardly negates the fact that food central planning can't end up in anything except economic disaster. And of course, hunger for a good portion of the citizenry. Instead of admitting the plain fact that food 'management' has been a resounding failure, expect the statist cronies to blame anything and everything - free market, 'market forces', 'neo-liberalism', 'liberalization' and so on.