Impending Food Crisis | Twin Track Approach Vital

Impending Food Crisis | Twin Track Approach Vital
Impending Food Crisis | Twin Track Approach Vital

Poverty, hunger and food insecurity along with inadequate funding in agriculture are among the key trends the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture organisation (FAO) observed that will prevent the world from being able to feed itself in the future. Obviously, with population increasing quite rapidly and the diet improving marginally, countries like India along with many others in South Asia and Africa are facing an enormous challenge in feeding its population living in backward regions of the country.

In a recent report titled ‘The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends & Challenges’, released a few days back, the international agency which works with governments and the private sector to ensure food quality and safety globally, said that “if trends continue, the target of ending hunger by 2030 will not be reached.” The FAO said that despite progress in reducing the prevalence of undernourishment, some 794 million people were estimated to be undernourished between 2014 and 2016.

Its most recent projections of trends in undernourishment, provided in another report, ‘Achieving Zero Hunger’, suggested that under a “business as usual” scenario, some 637 million people in low-and middle-income countries would be undernourished by 2030, most of them living in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.” As improvements in food security are associated with increases in purchasing power, the organisation submitted that the twin-track approach is needed, “one that combines investment in social protection, to immediately tackle undernourishment, with pro-poor investments in productive activities, to sustainably increase the income-earning opportunities of the poor.”

However, the FAO recently noted that “adequate food availability does not automatically imply adequate food intake by all”. It pointed out that inequalities in income and other means of subsistence explain large differences in people’s access to food. Secondly, it stated that poorer households tend to face impediments to the adequate use of food, owing to a lack of access to facilities such as storage, cooking equipment and clean water, and to services such as health care and basic nutrition education. Finally, the dietary transition is partially reflected in improved access to more nutritious foods, including meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, but not necessary in the right balance.

In view of this critical condition, the United Nations launched a record-breaking appeal to international donors asking for $51.5 billion to tackle spiraling levels of desperation, fuelled in part by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The disruption to food and fertilized shipments caused by the war combined with climate-related disasters and a looming threat of global economic recession to produce what the UN appeal warns is “the largest global food crisis in modern history”.

“The needs are going up because we have been smitten by the war in Ukraine, by Covid, by climate, and I fear that 2023 is going to see an acceleration of all these trends”, Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian aid coordinator, stated recently. About 339 million people or one in 23 people on the planet will need assistance, the UN estimated. That is 25 percent above the 2022 figure and bigger than the population of the US. Ukraine tops the list of funding needs for a single country in 2023.

For India as for many other countries, the Russia-Ukraine war has come with a very high cost in the form of record fertilizer subsidies apart from creating pressure on its food stocks at a time when domestic production was hit due to indigenous factors. The Indian government has also been forced to offer subsidies for cooking gas as a result of soaring prices.

Meanwhile, the rice and wheat stocks of the central government shrunk alarmingly by as much as 37 percent in a year as rising food inflation signals growing shortages in the economy. Wheat and rice stocks in government-owned godowns stood at 511.36 lakh tonnes as on October 1 which is the lowest since October 2017 when it was 433.36 lakh tonnes.

A year ago, there were 816 lakh tonnes of stock. Experts believe that heavy rain in late September could have impacted the standing paddy crops in Punjab and Haryana. It may be mentioned here that wheat inflation has been more than 10 percent since November 2021 while paddy inflation has been on an increasing trend since February this year and touched a 5 year high of around 6 percent. Agriculturists believe that cereal inflation is expected to stay till the year end due to erratic rains in the Indo-Gangetic plains and various other places.

Another aspect of the problem, which has indirect reference to the production of foodgrains, is another recent report stating that over 29 percent (over 96 million hectares) of India’s total geographical area (328.7 million hectares) is degraded. If looked at this phenomenon globally, where the land has lost its topsoil that supports life, the extent of degradation in terms of losing soil fertility goes up to 40 percent, threatening roughly half of the global GDP. Scientific reports have emphasised the need to not only stop degradation in India but also restore degraded land by bringing life into the soil through regenerative practices including nature-positive food production in rural landscapes to ensure that production and productivity is maintained.

The need for increasing yield in a populous country like India is highly relevant in view of the projections of FAO. Agricultural scientists have suggested certain measures, which include double cropping, better rotation of crops, fighting plant diseases and pests, etc.  However, it may be noted that “productivity enhancing investment in agriculture, however, depends not only on the state of knowledge but also on conditions governing the adoption of technology; it depends on the land tenure system which determines how the agricultural produce is divided between owners of land and agricultural labour; on the terms of trade between agriculture and industry, which determine the relative cheapness of industrial inputs vis-a-vis agricultural produce; and on the level of demand of agricultural produce.”

Though on the institutional front, the government is trying in a limited manner to solve the problems of agriculture through land reforms and on the technological front, a modest beginning has been made in converting farmers to the use of improved implements, seeds, chemicals, manures, etc., much more needs to be done. Small farmers at the grass-root levels need training and support which is not coming from the local administration. It also needs to be mentioned that water scarcity has been a hindrance to the spread of irrigation facilities.

Finally, it goes without saying that it is only through an integrated measure of a policy/programme that the challenges facing Indian agriculture can be squarely met. The objectives of government policy should be to develop an effective system and provide similar benefits to agriculture as does industry experience. Apart from increasing demand for food, it needs to be stated that modernizing operations could inspire youths to agriculture and agro-based industries to ward off the challenge of under-nutrition and hunger that has been predicted. —INFA


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Impending Food Crisis | Twin Track Approach Vital