Jun 19, 2013

Instead of making hunger history, India's Food Security bill is for posterity.

Will India's proposed Food Security bill ever put an end to such queues for food?  

Several years ago I and Dr M S Swaminathan were speaking at a conference on hunger at Rome. Also speaking at one of the session was the Brazilian Minister for Zero Hunger Programme, the dream programme of ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. After he had listened to us, he sat down with us to know of how India was battling hunger, specially the way India was managing its food self-sufficiency and the massive food procurement programme.

Yesterday, when I read the news report No hunger in Brazil by 2015 (IPS, June 19, 2013 http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/06/no-hunger-in-brazil-by-2015/) I was reminded of the ability of the Brazilian leadership to learn from others, and draw up a programme to fight hunger based on the central premise:  supporting family farms – which currently provide 70 percent of the food eaten by Brazilians – is central to poverty alleviation.

It is really heartening to know that ever since Brazil launched the Zero Hunger programme in 2001, it has pulled out 30-40 million people from poverty. While Brazil promises to remove hunger by 2015, there is no such clarity and promise being doled out under the ambitious National Food Security bill in India. To me it seems that while Brazil's Zero Hunger was time-bound and aimed at making hunger history, India's food security bill is simply targetted at the 2014 and 2019 elections, and is there for posterity.

India's proposed food security bill therefore is a lost opportunity. Sonia Gandhi did provide a historic opportunity for the National Advisory Council (NAC) to come up with a proposal to fight hunger in such a meaningful way that makes hunger history. But the opportunity was squandered. I would have been keenly looking for a policy programme which could have spelled out how much hunger would go away in the next five years, in the next 10 years, in the next 15 years and so on. The proposed law could have been easily designed in a manner that aims to remove hunger once for all rather than keep the majority population dependent on food doles for all times to come. An economically viable and sustainable agriculture should have been at the centre of the food security programme. With nearly 2,500 farmers quitting agriculture every day, and nowhere to go, the scourge of hunger is only going to multiply.

Meanwhile, I find a lot of excitement among the educated elite over the possibility of launching cash transfers for food. While I have already spelled out how cash transfers will hot at the very foundations of agriculture and food self-sufficiency, news reports of US Senate crackdown on the abuse of food stamps programme is quite unnerving. Just to quote from one news report: "The hearings follow last month's shocking audit by Bump's office showing millions in welfare benefits going to more than 1,100 dead people. Linsky's committee is also investigating the $ 100,000 in welfare benefits given to the family of marathon bomber Tamerian Tsarnaev. The farm bill, passed 66-27 by the US Senate last week, also calls for blocking college students from collecting SNAP benefits if their families are not considered low income; targeting retailers who traffic in EBT cards and forbidding liquor stores ad tobacco shops from accepting food stamps." (Food stamps and the lottery, http://foxmuldar-conservative-thinker.blogspot.in/2013/06/food-stamps-and-lottery.html).

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