May 5, 2008

Food (In)Security

I am shocked to read the President of USA repeat what his Senior aide Ms. Condoleeza Rice had to say on the resons for the current food shortage facing the World. The politicians in India, particularly the Opposition and Left are demanding a statement from the PM. My point is slightly different. While Mr. Bush has no business to tell us or the World what to eat or not eat, his remark on the causes of food shortage is so superficial that it lacks any research or depth. For the benefit of those of who missed reading his remarks, this is what he said. He says 250 million people in India (the middle class) have more purchasing power and are demanding better nutrition due to increased prosperity in the region.

I have serious facts / questions that have been overlooked by the President of USA that I would like to highlight:
  • Yes, India is a large consumer of foodgrains, but, most of this is internally produced. Neither our exports nor imports are significant to cause change in food prices in the World markets!! (we only export Basmati rice which is not consumed by the middle class, anyways. We import negligible amounts of wheat, that has happened these past 2 years, thanks to our mis management)
  • What does Mr. President have to say about the cost of crude that is now at 120$ a barrel? In my opinion this is the single biggest cause of rise in food grains, as rise in fuel prices have the biggest cascading effect on all goods and services.
  • Definitely, the use of biofuels has contributed to price rise. Ms. Condoleeza Rice atleast acknowledged the role of biofuels in further hiking of food prices. However, the President of USA does not think so!! I am so glad that the EU is doing a re think on enforcing its biofuel use.
  • Agriculture has been given the least attention and yields have plateaued in almost all crops. Instead of addressing this issue by investing in R & D and implement better agricultural practices, it is shocking to read careless, irresponsible statements from Heads of powerful countries.

Having raised these issues, I must also admit that Indians - scientists, farmers, policy makers need to address the issue of declining yields in crops and unviable agriculture, as practised by majority of Indian farmers. The situation is serious enough for all stakeholders to implement a new plan for an enabling environment for farmers to pursue crop cultivation and to bring in a new generation of farmers who would like to take to farming as a profitable venture. This is the direction we need to take to be self sufficient. If we do this now, we can thank Mr. George Bush for getting us out of the slumber we are in!!