[Editorial] Lessons for India’s Food Security Policy

Background:

  • The food security scenario in India witnessed dramatic changes in the past 6 decades.
  • It used to be a food deficit country in the 1960s that had to import food grains from USA to feed the starving masses. The situation was ‘ship-to-mouth’.
  • It is now a country that is now looking for ways to dispose off excess stores of food grains and is shipping grains to the starving masses in Afghanistan.
  • State and central governments have worked to enhance the access to food for the vulnerable sections with a reasonable level of success.
  • However, it is premature to celebrate it as India is yet to guarantee the food security of its population.

What can India learn from other countries’ example?

Sri Lanka and Pakistan:

  • The island nation has faced severe food scarcity and food inflation in its past.
  • It made use of chemical fertilizers to boost its agricultural productivity and escape the dire situation. However, the dependence on chemical fertilizers came with serious long-terms effects.
  • Recently the Sri Lankan government decided to abruptly shift to organic agriculture by banning the import of chemical fertilizers, without taking the necessary precautions for its food security. It decided to replace the chemical fertilizers, used by 90% of its farmers, with organic manure.
  • The unplanned abrupt move led to a sharp drop in food grain output and resulted in severe food inflation. The price of rice touched 115 Rs/ kg and wheat touched 100 Rs/ kg. Simultaneously, the price of LPG cylinders crossed 2,500 Rs/ unit.
  • For a country that primarily depends on its tourism sector, much care should be taken in the use of forex reserves– especially in times of pandemic induced lockdowns and travel restrictions. The country’s forex had already witnessed a sharp decline due to the decrease in number of visiting foreign tourists in the early stages of the pandemic.
  • In addition to this, the government was also using its scarce forex reserves to clear its debts.
  • In summation, irrational decisions taken in haste tend to lead to food scarcity and inflation.
  • In Pakistan, a central minister suggested that the people reduce their consumption of wheat and sugar to overcome food scarcity. Such advice isn’t feasible as the people are already suffering from hunger and malnutrition. At best, such suggestions can be considered as a short-term solution for dire situations.

Venezuela and Zimbabwe:

  • Irrational policies cause economic disasters even the resource-rich countries like Venezuela- an oil rich South American country. Its policy of distributing highly subsidized food grains and indiscriminately providing unemployment benefits had resulted in its people preferring to remain idle.
  • The scarcity of workers and the lack of remunerative prices led to foreign entrepreneurs exiting the country.
  • The forex reserves depleted leading to a decline in food imports and consequently, a spike in food inflation.
  • In order to appease the populace, the Venezuelan government started printing currency recklessly. This only led to hyperinflation.
  • It is said that it is better to teach a person how to fish rather than giving him/ her free fish. This idea applies here.
  • A similar hyperinflation situation was witnessed in Zimbabwe due to reckless printing of currency.

Uruguay:

  • Providing food security doesn’t simply mean providing the major cereals to the people.To achieve true food security, the people must have access to a balanced food basket.
  • Some countries, like Uruguay, have diversified their agriculture sector for this purpose.
  • Uruguay has been enhancing its dairy products’ output in addition to its traditional crops.
  • Though it has a population of only 3.3 million, it has about 12 million cows i.e. 4 cows for every person.
  • Every cow has been tagged with an electronic chip for monitoring purposes.
  • It now exports dairy products like milk, butter, curd and ghee in large volumes.

Morocco:

  • Experts have been cautioning against excessive dependence on chemical fertilizers. For producing these chemical fertilizers, phosphorus is an important raw material.
  • Some 70-80% of the known resources of phosphorus is located in Morocco.
  • Morocco controls fertilizer production by manipulating the price of phosphorus.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

What is the way ahead for India?

  • The crop cultivation method must be made environmentally friendly and sustainable.
  • Soil health is an important consideration when it comes to Indian agriculture. In states with high food grain production, like Punjab, the soil organic content is a less than 0.5%. For a soil to be considered healthy, it must have 3-6% organic content. When the organic content is low, soil turns into sand.
  • Some 25% of cultivated land in India is expected to fall victim to desertification in the next 10-15 years if this isn’t addressed.
  • To improve the soil organic content, simple measures like addition of plant and animal wastes can be considered.
  • Land degradation can be arrested by maintaining a healthy tree cover.
  • While it is necessary to shift to organic farming, this must be done in a well-planned and phased manner.
  • The food security policy must pay more attention to the dairy sector. Given the monsoon-dependent nature of agriculture in India, encouraging farm households to engage in dairying could make the arrangement more sustainable.

Conclusion:

The food security story of India is a dramatic one. India is fast becoming an important food exporter. However, to ensure wholesome food security- necessary for a healthy population- it must pay close attention to factors like soil health and crop diversification, while learning from the policy-outcomes of other countries.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x