Grim Outlook for World Food      
      Written by Shobha Shukla     
      Tuesday, 14 October 2008  

      Food scarcity and the challenges of climate change and bio energy 

      "Rarely has World Food Day assumed greater meaning than in present times, 
as rapidly rising food prices risk increasing the number of hungry in the 
world," according to the Food And Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

      The FAO was founded on 16 October 1945, which is observed as World Food 
Dayin about 150 countries all over the world. The theme this year is World Food 
Scarcity : The Challenges Of Climate Change And Bioenergy as there is a strong 
need to expand global awareness to reduce the effect of severe climate patterns 
on agriculture and the impact of bio fuels on food production.

      Global warming and the biofuel boom are threatening to push the number of 
hungry even higher in times to come. During 2007 alone, around 50 million were 
added to the ranks of the world's hungry due to rising prices, thus pushing the 
number of unfed to about 1 billion. The world seems to be further distancing 
itself from reaching the U.N. Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger and 
poverty by 2015. Poor harvests, high oil costs, diversion to biofuels and a 
rising demand for basic staple crops, especially in fast-growing Asian 
countries, have been cited as examples for the spiralling food prices which 
have sparked protests, even riots.

      Global wheat prices have more than doubled during the past year due to 
poor weather conditions in some wheat-producing areas (droughts in Australia 
and Europe); a shift by farmers to growing crops used in making bio fuels; and 
speculation by traders. Though India is being touted as one of the world's 
hottest economy, nearly 50 percent of the world's hungry live in it. It is 
listed as a low income, food deficit country, with about 25 percent of its 
population subsisting on Rs.12 (US24ยข) or less, a day and around 77 percent 
living on less than $1 a day, according to the latest report of National 
Commission for Enterprises In The Unorganized Sector. 
      India does boast of having a burgeoning 350 million strong middle class 
with improved diets (which was lamented by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice 
and President George Bush to be one of the causes of the global food price 
crisis. Yet around 35 percent of its population is food insecure, consuming 
less than 80 percent of the daily minimum requirement and it has the dubious 
distinction of having the highest rate of malnutrition in children below three 
years of age in the world at about 46 percent.

      Today, India faces an agricultural crisis and hunger which are due to not 
only current high prices of basic staples, but skewed government policies. 
Rapid economic growth and accompanying shortages have also fuelled prices. 
State support for agriculture and irrigation has been slashed, price supports 
reduced and the public distribution system drastically curtailed. While the 
gross domestic product grew at 8.5 percent in 2006-2007, the growth in 
agricultural sector was a mere 2.6 percent. Also, marginal land holdings have 
increased and total cultivated land has decreased, especially as more and more 
agricultural land is being seized by domestic and international corporations in 
the form of 'Special Economic Zones' for industrialization, as happened in 
Nandigram and to some extent in Singur

The results have been disastrous as agricultural growth reduces poverty and 
hunger much more than urban and industrial development. A spate of 150,000 
farmer suicides during the last decade is a rude reminder of the agrarian 
crisis and the grip of cash-cropping on poor farmers, bolstered by seed and 
chemical agribusiness. India has belatedly sought to control prices by holding 
back essential commodities, curbing export of non-premium rice and waiving 
loans to farmers. Obviously more needs to be done than mere cosmetic changes. 

There is an urgent need to improve productivity of dry land farming, as 60 
percent of India's agriculture is rain-dependent, as well as better 
implementation of the National Rural Employment Program and the Public 
Distribution System. 

The director general of FAO, Dr. Jacques Dious, has called upon governments to 
pay urgent attention to the needs of agriculture and water management and also 
increased investment in agriculture. At the Rome Summit held in June, he 
pointed out that in 2006 the world spent US$1.2 trillion on arms. 

"Against that backdrop how can we explain to people of good sense and good 
faith that it was not possible to find $ 30 billion a year to enable the hungry 
to enjoy the most fundamental human right to food and thus the right to life," 
Dious asked. "Yet it has been estimated that there is enough food for all in 
the world, at least 2,700 calories per person, per day."

But it is the lack of purchasing power more than food shortage due to 
population explosion and inclement weather conditions that makes so many 
millions go to bed hungry every day. Hunger is linked to the denial of a living 
wage to the working poor. It is about denial of land to the landless. It is 
caused by socioeconomic policies that deny people the right to food. Resources 
are there to end hunger, but they are exploited by a miniscule few to the 
detriment of others. 

So the real reason for all this hunger and poverty may well be policy and not 
scarcity; politics and not inevitability. The real culprits are economies that 
fail to offer everyone opportunities and societies that place economic 
efficiency above compassion. 

As India gloats over its victory in the recently concluded Nuclear Deal and as 
Ratan Tata and his Nano are hailed as an engineering marvel, let us do 
something sincere and concrete to put some food inside empty bellies. That 
would be a truly Indian Miracle. 

The author teaches Physics at India's Loreto Convent and has been writing 
extensively in English and Hindi media. She serves as Editor of Citizen News 
Service (CNS).


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