Food security refers to the availability of food and one's access to it. A household is considered food-secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. According to the World Resources Institute, global per capita food production has been increasing substantially for the past several decades. In 2006, MSNBC reported that globally, the number of people who are overweight has surpassed the number who are undernourished - the world had more than one billion people who were overweight, and an estimated 800 million who were undernourished. According to a 2004 article from the BBC, China, the world's most populous country, is suffering from an obesity epidemic. In India, the second-most populous country in the world, 30 million people have been added to the ranks of the hungry since the mid-1990s and 46% of children are underweight. Problems
Politicians may be in a position to influence the definition of the poverty line in India but they cannot hide the symptoms of poverty. In 2005, 46% of children in India aged under 3 years were underweight. Any improvement in this indicator since 1990 has been far too slow to suggest that the target of 26.8% by 2015 for the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved.
The underlying pattern of food production tells the story. In the period 1990-2007, grain yields in India grew at an average rate of 1.2% per annum, less than the corresponding population growth rate of 1.9% per annum. The amount of daily food grain available per capita is lower than in the 1950s.
|Pesticide spraying, India. © |
|Centre for Science and Environment|
Falling productivity reflects both the lack of government investment in agriculture and the legacy of policies relating to the “green revolution”. This critical boost to food security dating from the 1970s and 1980s involved subsidies for fertiliser, water, fuel and electricity which have proved difficult to reverse.
According to the government’s State of Environment Report 2009, about 15% of agricultural land has been degraded through excessive application of subsidised chemicals. And almost a third of India’s groundwater aquifers are now classed as critical or semi-critical.
Furthermore, in the absence of micro-credit and technical support, the richer farmers have proved more adept at exploiting opportunities. The subsidy model has therefore disadvantaged the 75% of farms which cover less than two hectares. The majority of these smallholdings are rain-fed, vulnerable to drought and flooding associated with the vagaries of a monsoon climate.
This uneasy state of food security in India will be further stressed by a structural pincer movement over coming decades. A projected population rise from 1.2 billion to 1.7 billion by 2050 will exacerbate rather than resist the demands for alternative use of farmland from an industrialising economy.
One third of cultivable land in the state of Uttar Pradesh is already deemed to be at risk. Seemingly oblivious to the squeeze on land, the government announced at the end of 2009 a target to resource 20% of India’s fuel consumption with biofuels by 2017. top
The government favours direct investment in household food security rather than rural infrastructure. It proposes fundamental reform of the long established Public Distribution System (PDS) which offers 180 million poor families the opportunity to purchase food and cooking essentials at discounted prices.
|Dairy co-operative in Pondicherry © Peter |
A new Food Security bill under consideration by parliament proposes to issue coupons direct to BPL families. The intention is to bypass the corruption and fraud within the PDS distribution system which may misdirect up to 70% of its resources.
Influenced by the principle of the right to food, there is...
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