Jul 1, 2013

Food Security bill: Why it is an opportunity lost

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 LuizIn├ício 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.

It was therefore so heartening to read a news report saying No hunger in Brazil by 2015. This only shows 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. The entire programme to fight hunger was designed on the basis of what the country required. 

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 targeted at the 2014 elections, and is 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.

The United Nations meanwhile has complimented 38 countries, including Brazil, for beating a UN deadline of 2015 to remove half their hunger. It was in the year 2000 when the UN established the Millennium Development Goals for countries, the first target being to reduce extreme poverty and hunger by half by the year 2015. These 38 countries are: Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chile, Cuba, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Maldives, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Peru, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Thailand, Togo, Turkmenistan, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam.

While I agree that 91 per cent reduction in global hunger since 1991-92 has come from the efforts made by just two countries – China and Vietnam, it is significant that some other countries are fast racing to eradicate hunger. Even if these countries have relatively smaller populations (except Indonesia and Bangladesh) hunger is a scourge that blots development everywhere including tiny nations. A hungry nation can never be economically strong howsoever it may try to paint a rosy picture based on statistical jugglery.

The proposed National Food Security bill therefore was an excellent opportunity to plan a time-bound programme – that cuts into several related ministries. Besides agriculture, rural development, science& technology, the law should have also corrected many distortions coming through international trade, industry and land acquisitions.

Take the case of the dairy sector. It is generally believed that most farmers who have not committed suicide are the ones who are also keeping dairy animals. But under the proposed Indo-European Union Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that is about to be signed, India has agreed to drastically reduce the import duties on the import of milk and dairy products. This will bring in a flood of cheaper imports which the European Union is saddled with. These highly subsidised imports will hit not only the cooperative dairy sector but also render small farmers uneconomical. 

6 comments:

Osho Caper said...

Things will became worse for India as in most States where Agriculture is main business Now Farmers r selling Lands and Houses r being constructed there. With less land & bigger population to feed This Problem will be out of hands SOON.

Prof(Dr.) RamaKumar,V said...

Studies of NSS (national sample survey) indicate that PDS were not benefiting the poor. Leakage, losses and diversion to free market are alleged (Venugopal, 1992).
Despite heavy incidental of FCI only 13-22 paise out of every rupee spent reaches the poor. Restructuring of PDS in 1990’s did no betterment. This needs closer study (research). (Parikh, Kirit.S.: India Development report, 1997; Oxford Univ. Press). Targeting Beneficiary (TB) that involves the establishment of offices of profit and posts of power for public men is another process where public money gets squandered.
The process of selecting Targeted Beneficiary (TB) can be done away with, by providing low cost food to all Aadhar/ NPR holders. Monitoring distribution can be covered under RTI, citizen’s charter or right to service. But grievance cells would work only if the masses are aware of their rights and has the courage and patience to stand up against the minority that rules (ie. the < 2 crore govt. employees and people in power).
 Salaried employees who form <3% of population control the fate of the rest 97%. Large and small industries has so far provided only 78 lakh employment. Living condition of employees are not uniformly ideal(slums around SEZ’s)
 As crimes are getting increasingly politicized, monitoring committees too may get misused for political ends at govt. cost.

Subsidy at input and support price at output for agriculture had always been exploited by large land holders who sell food grains in open market at a premium. Instead of providing subsidies at input stage and support price at output stage, govt. may provide a direct, one stage support price (including intended subsidy) to farmers who sells food grains to govt. agencies. Indirect subsidies on fertilizers going to producers or elsewhere can thus be stopped..
To compensate for the withdrawal of subsidies at input stage and letting the indirect subsidies go through fertilizer & pesticide manufacturers, liberal Short term loans can be arranged for the producers of coarse grains, lentils, lower grade food grains, animals products and energy food like tubers, cassava, banana etc. The short term loans can be recovered at the time of procurement.
 India holds half of the landless of developing world and most of the marginal holders of the world. NSS 1991-92 indicates that they hold only 15.6% of the land in the country with larger land holders owning nearly 84 % of operational area of agricultural land. Size of land per person is steadily decreasing.

Agriculture being a state subject state govt.s can encourage mixed farming, sustainable farming and production of staple food (these generally run on a low input –low out put regimen). This will enable state a control over local (staple) food production for man and animals.
 The focus of food security plan has to be through regional strategies for high productive zone, low productivity-high potential zone, low productivity zone and ecologically fragile zone

Chosen variety of animal products, coarse grains, food grains, lentils and other food products as is required to ensure nutritional security can be distributed at prescribed cost to all through PDS (govt. shops or milk co-operatives). If the prices of items aforementioned can be strictly regulated through out the country, the PDS materials would not leak into open market for adulteration or sale on profit. In fact this system of nutritional security once established, the PDS can be gradually dismantled (at that stage any shop can sell subsidized food.)

Prof(Dr.) RamaKumar,V said...

Though agriculture is a state subject centre gets involved in collection & distribution of food grain, sugar & kerosene through PDS. Studies of national sample survey indicate that PDS are not benefiting poor. Leakage, losses and diversion to free market are alleged. (Venugopal, 1992).
Studies show that despite concession in freight by railways, incidental of FCI is heavy. Only 13-22 paise out of every rupee spent, reaches the poor. Restructuring of PDS in 1990’s did no good. (Parikh, Kirit.S.: India Development report, 1997; Oxford Univ. Press). Selection and handling of Target Beneficiary (TB) involves public funds for establishing offices of profit for some and posts of power for public men.
Expenditure can be reduced if food can be distributed across board to all Adhaar/ NPR holders. If a computer net work can link PDS shops (through LAN/ WAN) to a main office, distribution of nutrients can easily be monitored (like medical/ other shops checking stock and daily sale). RTI, citizen’s charter or right to service can work if the masses are aware of their rights and show the courage and patience to check on the officialdom (govt. employees and people in power).
 2% people (govt employees) control the fate of the rest 98% of India. [Salaried employees in India are around 2.82 crores. Of this large and small industries employ 78 lakh people. So, 2% govt. employees are controlling the living condition of private sector employees who live in slums and shanties around SEZ’s, of the tribals, the nomands, the pastorials or that of agri.labour]
 As crimes tend to get increasingly politicized these days, commissions and monitoring committees for food distribution could get misused politically.
 Not considering the feed and nutritional security of animal resources and the disproportionately high cost of animal feed force the major stake holders of animal husbandry (ie. small holders and landless) to use subsidized grains to feed animals.
 Animal husbandry is an essential component of organic farming and bio-diversity. There is urgency for R&D on animal resource development (ARD) where inflation is least especially the socio-economics, feed technology, HRD and the service needs of animal husbandry.

Prof(Dr.) Ramakumar,V. said...

Impact of hi-tech
2.3 Impact,-
 Intensive agriculture increased quantity, but quality with grains becoming mineral deficient over the years.
 Deficiency & residues affect the health and fertility of livestock; affect small holders’ daily earning.
 Mineral loss shift life from high mortality-high fertility to low mortality-low fertility.
 Hi-tech farmers pampered without allowing them to experience and learn from market constraints.
 GDP share of Agri. declined from 50% in 1950/51 to 27.6% in 1996/97
 Data (1994) of food grain production indicates that yield/ acre of rice and wheat is more in Indonesia & Sri Lanka and Egypt or China respectively.
 No taker (for local rice in Assam early 2000 (unfavourable factor productivity?). The food grain glut in Punjab (lack of buying mechanism and of storage) indicates the need for a holistic research economics & marketing.
 Despite subsidy and support price cost of food grains increased beyond access of poor.
 2011 report revealed that US, India & China, produce half the Green House gases (GHG).
 Nearly 42% (or 47%?) of our children remain under-nourished
 Empowering the masses specially the poorest who rears live-stock on common property and crop residue is significant for both food and nutritional security (pl. see the table on plan outlay again)
2.4 SATURATION
Most favorable factors of the past growth can no more be tapped,-
• Area expansion that increased rice production stopped in the 1980’s.
• The high input management that helped until 1980, declined since 1990.
• irrigation potential has reached the peak with usage of all sources.
• Soil health deteriorated & productivity fell due to salinity & low fertiliser efficiency.
• We would have used-up most of our balance water resources with drinking water sources getting depleted.
Mechanised & canal irrigation s replaced use of water bodies and natural rivers.
Animal husb., Mixed farming, Local production of staple food, through optimal utilization of land, water, energy and man power holds the key for future

Prof(Dr.) Ramakumar,V. said...

ANATOMY OF FOOD SECURITY IN NDIA -II
2.1 investments in food & agri. were essentially on high input- high output, where large land holders were involved.
 5000 tractors in 1950 (pre-plan) increased to 3 lakh. Small farmers using Tractors and implements fell into debt.
 Good share of oil import of Rs.>35-40 thousand cr./ yr go to agriculture. Oil pool deficit affects fiscal balance
 Installed capacity 2000 MW in 1950 is now > 85,000. 1/3 of it is used for hi-tech agriculture (subsidized, but not regular)
 Irrational irrigation in Haryana (desert part) is facing flooding. Diseases increase with high moisture. Water table lowered Punjab. Crop unsuitable to geological layers, proved disastrous (Haryana, Rajasthan, MP)
 Fertilizer subsidy is shared by manufacturers than farmers. India import fertilizer (>Rs. 4000 cr). Fertilizer Import costs less.

2.2 Food Import is considered bad (ship to mouth). But
(a) We import of inputs (fertilizer, chemicals & petroleum products) for self sufficiency in food
(b) We import horticultural products, milk powder and edible oil.
(c) We export oil cakes which are essential for domestic dairy production.
(d) blanket input subsidy: i) Some go directly to manufacturers ii) subsidies on tractors, irrigation, electricity and pesticides(if) goes to hi-tech farming where branded products are sold in open market (iii) it encourage overuse of inputs (cost/ residues) (iv) Low interest bank loans and tax benefits get misused for money lending & money laundering
(e) Support price for cereals on compassionate/ populist reasons result in price rise; other food products (like vegetables, fish & animal products) are in disadvantage
(f) Regular market slump (glut) in apples, onion, potato etc.
2.3 Impact,-
 Intensive agriculture increased quantity, but quality with grains becoming mineral deficient over the years.
 Deficiency & residues affect the health and fertility of livestock; affect small holders’ daily earning.
 Mineral loss shift life from high mortality-high fertility to low mortality-low fertility.
 Hi-tech farmers pampered without allowing them to experience and learn from market constraints.
 GDP share of Agri. declined from 50% in 1950/51 to 27.6% in 1996/97
 Data (1994) of food grain production indicates that yield/ acre of rice and wheat is more in Indonesia & Sri Lanka and Egypt or China respectively.
 No taker (for local rice in Assam early 2000 (unfavourable factor productivity?). The food grain glut in Punjab (lack of buying mechanism and of storage) indicates the need for a holistic research economics & marketing.
 Despite subsidy and support price cost of food grains increased beyond access of poor.
 2011 report revealed that US, India & China, produce half the Green House gases (GHG).
 Nearly 42% (or 47%?) of our children remain under-nourished
 Empowering the masses specially the poorest who rears live-stock on common property and crop residue is significant for both food and nutritional security (pl. see the table on plan outlay again)
2.4 SATURATION
Most favorable factors of the past growth can no more be tapped,-
• Area expansion that increased rice production stopped in the 1980’s.
• The high input management that helped until 1980, declined since 1990.
• irrigation potential has reached the peak with usage of all sources.
• Soil health deteriorated & productivity fell due to salinity & low fertiliser efficiency.
• We would have used-up most of our balance water resources with drinking water sources getting depleted.
Mechanised & canal irrigation s replaced use of water bodies and natural rivers.
Animal husb., Mixed farming, Local production of staple food, through optimal utilization of land, water, energy and man power holds the key for future

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