By Mohd Naushad Khan

In 2013, the National Food Security Act was enacted to provide subsidised food grains to approximately two-thirds of the country’s 1.2 billion people. Food security is defined by the availability, accessibility, utilisation and stability of food, which aims to ensure that everyone has access to  the foods they need for an active and healthy life. But the figures reveal grim reality because very little has changed on the ground.

According to Dr. Siraj Hussain, who has served as Joint Secretary, Department of Food and Public Distribution, Chairman and Managing Director of Food Corporation of India (FCI), and Union Secretary in the Ministries of Food Processing Industries and Agriculture, “Till the enactment of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA), Public Distribution System was welfare-based model. NFSA makes the right of an eligible citizen to obtain a certain quantity of food grains. Henceforth, it is like a fundamental right.”

Dr Hussain added, “NFSA is supposed to provide two-thirds of India’s population with highly subsidised wheat (@Rs 2 per kg) and rice (@Rs 3 per kg). However, the present coverage under NFSA is only about 81 crore which is only 58 per cent of India’s current population of about 140 crore. Despite the calls for adding more people to PDS, the Government has not allowed any increase in the number of beneficiaries. As a result, many deserving poor families are left out.”

“The basic purpose of food security is to provide food to the poor on subsidised rate, no one should be left hungry and every poor should get food. There should not be any arguments against this but the point what I am trying to make is that food security should not be at the cost of the producer. Why should we put burden of the food security on those who are producing it? This is unfair. MSP is not given at the real cost of production and there is debate going on,” said Vijay Jawandhiya, who is a senior farmer leader, an avid commentator on the agrarian crisis and founder member of Shetkari Sangatthna.

He added, “The Union government only considered cash transactions and payments made by farmers for seeds, labour, pesticides, and fertilisers (A2) plus unpaid value of family labour (FL) – the A2+FL – despite the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendation for a 50% increase on the comprehensive cost borne by the farmer, or the C2. In the budget, they have to arrange for more subsidies and therefore they give minimum price to farers. They give less prices to farmers but they show how much the government is spending on food subsidy. The spending on food subsidy is shown by the government that it is given to the farmers. It is not for the farmers but spending on the polity for votes.” 

On the impact of subsidy, Jawandhiya said, “Now on the other side subsidised wheat @ Rs 2 per kg and Rice @Rs 3 per kg has impacted the growth of poor man’s diet like Millets, Jowar and so on. In Vidharba, 40 per cent of the land was in Jowar cultivation. People were heavily dependent on it. Jowar was once used as a barter system and a kind of currency. Today not even 2 per cent of land is in Jowar cultivation. It has further impacted fodder for animals and many more.”                                       

In his book, “Why poor people stay poor : a study of urban bias in world development” Michael Lipton said, ‘After the second world war the countries deliberately kept food grain price cheap.’  They are the poorest country in the world. If the government claims to have provided food grains to 85 crore Indians, is it a matter of pride or shame that even after 75 years the 85 crore Indians wages are not adequate to make arrangements of two times meals a day,” argued Jawandhiya.

In 2018, India was placed at 76 out of 113 nations, according to The Global Food Security Index (GFSI), which included four factors: cost, availability, quality, and safety. In 2020, India’s ranking was 71 out of 113 countries in the GFSI rankings. In 2019, according to the Global Hunger Index, India was ranked at 102 out of 117 countries. India was rated 94th out of 107 nations in 2020. Its position slipped to 101 out of 116 nations in 2021.

Is it not alarming and painful to note that countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan are better placed than India in the Global Hunger Index ranking 2020? The ranking of India should have surprised many of us because during the pandemic, India provided free ration to about 80 crore poor people. During this period food grains worth about `1.5 lakh crores was distributed to poor people. Notably, India has managed to pull out 27.1 crore people out of poverty from the year 2005-06 to 2015-16 but despite that it still accounts for 28 per cent of the 1.3 billion poor globally. Does that not put a question mark on the implementation of our Food Security Act?

The announcement of Nobel Peace Prize to World Food Program (WFP) in 2020 was an eye opener not only for India but for the entire world. It was reminder that how important it is for the countries to fight hunger and how the countries of the world should compete with each other in eliminating poverty. But for India, the above announcements had serious connotations and India cannot afford to be complacent in its fight against poverty.

According to Amitabh Behar, Chief Executive Officer of Oxfam India, who currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the Board of CIVICUS – a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society across the globe, “Hunger is a massive scandal that we as humanity have chosen to live without any real moral outrage. The Covid crisis has further accentuated hunger across countries, regions and continents. The decision of the Nobel committee to award the Nobel Peace Prize to World Food Program was a good step in the right direction. Hopefully, it will bring much greater global attention to the question of hunger. However, the Nobel committee should have gone further by also recognising people’s struggles and strategies for coping with hunger.

“However, the real question that all of us need to address goes beyond the charity of providing food to hungry. Why when billionaires continue to become richer and richer, do we continue with such levels of poverty that people have to sleep hungry. We need to address this systemic inequality which makes top one per cent of the population richer and perpetuates hunger for a large majority of our population.”

Dr Amir Ullah Khan, who is a Development Economist and served as Deputy Director and policy advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said, “The Nobel Prize to the World Food Program was an acknowledgement of one of the most critical multilateral organisations that has worked against all odds across regions and continents. Post-COVID, the world is going to see an increase in hunger that is unprecedented. Across the world, millions of people are getting impoverished and pushed into greater hunger. India is home to the world’s largest population on malnourished children. Our children (and the girl child in particular) and women, 21 million of who are pregnant, will bear the brunt of this calamity more than others.

“What is indeed tragic is that the pandemic will erase a large portion of the gains made in the past, ever since the world and India became aware of the malnutrition problem. Over the last fifteen years, there has been a steady decline in these numbers. The mid-day Meal Scheme, the National Health Mission, MNREGA, increased outlays for ICDS, the rise of women’s groups, SHGs and a decisive movement by the government towards setting up the POSHAN Abhiyan has shown clear improvements. On an average, 21 per cent children in India suffer from wasting syndrome. Only three countries in the world have wasting above 20 per cent – Djibouti, Sri Lanka, and South Sudan. The other concern is that in a gender unfriendly society, women account for 60 per cent of India’s hungry population. Girls are fed poorly, treated badly and often are denied food that is first served to their male siblings in patriarchal societies like ours,” he said.

Dr Amir Ullah added, “With the WFP being recognised for its efforts and getting the Nobel Prize, there is indeed hope that policymakers will now re-focus on nutrition, across the world. A number of initiatives have been taken by multilateral agencies like the WFP and by various countries. These steps that are being taken will indeed get a fillip.”

The focus of the world leaders during I2U2 Summit on 14 July was on Food Security and Clean Energy. As per the joint statement declaration, the United Arab Emirates will invest $2 billion to develop a series of integrated food parks across India.

According to the 2022 State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report, the number of people affected by hunger rose in 2021 to 828 million, an increase of about 46 million since 2020 and 150 million since 2019, before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, WFP and FAO warned that acute food insecurity could worsen in 20 countries or areas during June to September 2022.

On April 13, 2022, the heads of the World Bank Group, International Monetary Fund, United Nations World Food Programme, and World Trade Organisation released a joint statement calling on the international community for urgent action to address food insecurity, to keep trade open and support vulnerable countries, including by providing finance to meet the most urgent needs. (The World Bank- Food Security Update, 15 July, 2022).

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