The proposed introduction of a Food Security Act by the UPA Government is a welcome step. The Right to Food is the basis of the Right to life, and Art.21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life of all Indian citizens.
Given that India has emerged as the capital of hunger, given that per capita consumption has 178 kg in 1991, the beginning of the period of economic reforms, to 155 kg in 200-2003, and daily calorie consumption of the bottom 25 percent of the population has decreased from 1683 k.cal in 1987-88 to 1624 k.cal in 2004-05, against a national norm of 2400 and 2011 k cal/day for rural and urban areas respectively, a response on the food in security front is a response to a national emergency.
However, the approach to food security has a number of blind spots and biases.
Blind Spot : Where does one food come from? How is it produced?
The biggest blind spot is neglecting food production and food producers as a core element of food security, from the household to the national level. You cannot provide food to people if you do not first ensure that food is produced in adequate quantities. And to ensure food production, the livelihood of food producers must be ensured. The right of food producers to produce food is the foundation of food security. This right has internationally evolved through the concept of "food sovereignty". In Navdanya we refer to it as Anna Swaraj.
Food Sovereignty is derived from socio-economic human rights, which include the right to food and the right to produce food for rural communities. As Peter Rosset has recently written in Monthly Rview July – August, 2007 (Fixing Our Global Food System) "Food Sovereignty argues that feeding a nations people is an issue of national security – of sovereignty, if you will. If the population of a country must depend for their next meal on the vagaries and price swings of the global economy, on the good will of a superpower not to use food as a weapon, or on the unpredictability and high cost of long-distance shipping, then the country is not secure, neither in the sense of national security, nor in the sense of food security. Food sovereignty thus goes beyond the concept of food security, which says nothing about where food comes from, or how it is produced. To achieve genuine sovereignty, people in rural areas must have access to productive land and receive prices for their crops that allow them to make a decent living while feeding the nations people.
Two aspects of food security have disappeared in the current approach – firstly, the right to produce food, and secondly national food security. Both are aspects of food sovereignty, one at the level of food producers and the other at the level of the country as a whole.
Any country risks genuine food security if it ignores food is higher because two thirds of our population is involved in agriculture and food production, our small farmers produce food for the country and have provided a nation of 1.2 billion with food security, and today they themselves are in distress.
The most tragic face of the agrarian crisis the country is facing are the suicides of over 200,000 farmers over the past decade. If our food producers do not survive, where is the nation’s food security?
The second reason why India cannot afford to ignore the crisis of our food producers is because our rural communities face a deep crisis of hunger. Globally too, half of the hungry people of the world today are food producers. This is directly related to the capital intensive, chemical intensive, high external input systems of food production introduced as the Green Revolution, and the second Green Revolution. Farmers must get into debt to buy costly inputs, and indebted farmers must sell what they produce to pay back the debt. Hence the paradox and irony of food producers being the highest number of hungry people in India and in the world. Farmers suicides too are linked to the same process of indebtedness due to high costs of inputs.
The solution to the hunger of producer communities is to shift to low cost sustainable agriculture production based on principles of agro ecology. And contrary to the false perception that small farmers and sustainable systems do not produce enough, data from India and other parts of the world establishes that small farmers have higher output than large farms, that biodiverse organic farms have high food output than chemical monocultures. This is also confirmed by the IAASTD report.
This food sovereignty of rural producers addresses hunger of rural communities as well as the hunger of those they feed. And for the same reasons, corporate farming and contract farming are false solutions in the context of the hunger and malnutrition crisis facing the country. As is the corporate take over of food processing and attempted hijack of our food security programmes such as ICDS and Mid Day Meal Schemes.
The Governments policies are biased in favour of the corporate sector. The proposal to shift from the PDS system to the food stamp or food voucher systems arises from this corporate bias. The assumption is that corporations will control the food supply, and the government will enable the poor to buy from corporations on the basis of food stamps and vouchers. However, the poor will then be condemned to the least nutritious unhealthy food as has happened in countries like the U.S
As Tolstoy put it when he was involved in setting up soup kitchens during the Russian famine of 1891-1892, he despaired that they were "distributing the vomit, regurgitated by the rich"
A food security system that does not include food sovereignty and that does not build public food systems must condemn the poor to food unfit for humans. This is what happened when India imported pest weed, pesticide infested wheat two years ago. The Chennai Port Authority, and the Maharashtra Government both said that wheat was unfit for human consumption.
The present paradigm has the bias that the poor can eat bad food. Good food is only for the rich.
However food security includes the right to safe, healthy, culturally appropriate and economically affordable food. Food stamps cannot guarantee this. Further, the PDS ystem is not a one sided system. It is both a food procurement and food distribution system. Its dismantling and substitution by food vouchers will erode the food sovereignty of producers, abandon them to the vagaries of the market and finally destroy their livelihoods.
Adding 650 million rural people to the displaced and hungry will create a hunger problem no government and no market can solve.
That is why we must strengthen food sovereignty and the PDS system to strengthen food security.
The proposals of the Government that the centre will identify the poor goes against the federal structure of India’s Constitution. As Chief Minister of Punjab Prakash Singh Badal has recently said (Indian Express 5.7.06) "States have to go like beggars to the centre for everything. We have been reduced to glorified municipalities".
A national food security systems needs to be based on the Constitution. Decentralisation is key to ensuring good and abundant food is produced on every farm and reaches every kitchen. Centralisation and corporate hijack of food go hand in hand. Decentralisation and food sovereignty go hand in hand.