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India: cause of global food crisis

Aparna Ray replies to US President Geoge Bush's remark that the growing prosperity of India's large middle class is contributing to rising food prices around the world, with an apt limerick:
It seems we have hurled,
The rest of the world,
Into crisis by not chewing grass!

8 comments

  • honest opinion

    Did Bush mean that the Indian middle class didnt had food in the past?? He is just trying to cover himself, since it came in some reports that approx 30% of the grains produced in US in 2007 was used for biofuel instead of feeding the people. Considering US as the largest consumer of any resources (oil, food, water ….list goes on.) with such a less population, Bush need to be considerate of others on the earth, instead of throwing this crap.

  • Bush loves to push but hates to be called a bully for this alone he is called silly. Dr. Bush, the road ahead is hilly, drive the ethanol car willy-nilly.

  • from a website
    IT IS not clear what got into US President George W. Bush to make him say that a reason for global food prices to be ruling at haunting levels — some countries have recorded food riots and several are showing considerable nervousness — is that India (and China) were consuming more food on account of improved incomes and cutting supplies to the international market, causing an acute world-wide shortage of food and a consequent rise in prices.

    This is not very bright thinking, particularly because it has no relation to facts, as the statistical data show. The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s statistics demonstrate clearly that there has hardly been any rise in food consumption in India in the years the country was registering relatively high rates of economic growth. An array of Indian economists of diverse persuasions agree that the per capita consumption of food has, in fact, declined in India in this period (while overall food grain consumption has moved up marginally).

    The US president’s observation was preceded a day earlier by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing the same sentiment. That makes the whole affair look like considered orchestration, possibly to head off international criticism of the US for being a prime cause of the unconscionable price rise, especially of cereals that the poorest so desperately rely on.

    Some economists here have indeed argued that (in an election year) the US government is seeking to avoid taking responsibility for the very high price of food worldwide, including in markets of the developed world. They suggest that US domestic policies have much to answer for in sending world food prices soaring.

    Dr Mahendra Dev, the incoming chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), argues that in the middle of this decade the consumption of food grains in the US has gone up as much as 11 times as against an insignificant two percent increase in India in the same period.

    Where is the evidence of escalation in food consumption in India that American leaders speak of, experts here wonder. According to the CACP chief, the consumption pattern for food in developed countries is three or four times higher than in India. Besides, in the US, food crops acreage has been made over to the production of bio-fuels in a significant manner, affecting the global availability of food grains and hence contributing to high prices. The rate of growth of food grain production in India was zero between 1996-97 and 2004-05, and the population growth rate was higher in the same period, leading to a decline in per capita production of food grains, says Dr Dev. This was a factor for reduced consumption of food grains per capita.

    The rising incomes for a section of the population in India have caused increased demand for non-cereal foods including dairy and meat products, according to the CACP chief, but not to the extent of causing a significant increase in demand for cereals as cattle feed. At the same time, the bottom 40 percent of the population remains at poverty levels (consumption 2,400 calories a day). In addition to the National Sample Survey (NSS) data, micro-survey data from the states bring the point home.

    Dr Himanshu of the Centre for Studies in Regional Development at JNU, who has studied NSS data extensively for consumption patterns of food, is quite clear that in the last 20 or 25 years, cereal consumption per capita has declined in India, including in the years of relatively high growth rates.

    ACCORDING TO him, there has been some diversification to non-vegetarian food and dairy products (raising demand for animal feed), but this has not been of an order that would have any significant impact on world food demand. The income elasticity of food (the extent of rise in food consumption in response to rising incomes) in India remains very low, says the JNU scholar. “We are still consuming a lot less food than people in western Europe or North America”, he notes.

    It is a convoluted argument, he says, that in India (or China) “we should consume less food so that food availability for American consumers is kept high and the prices kept relatively low even as they continue to grow obese”

    The US bears the greatest responsibility for international food prices being as high as they are today, he argues. About 70 percent of US corn production used to provide cattle feed to yield meat and dairy products. But since biofuels are now substituting corn in the US in a significant way, cattle are being fed on wheat that was earlier used for human consumption. This has led to a spurt in demand for cereals in the US market. The international scarcity thus caused has contributed considerably to the price escalation. The speculative action in the Chicago futures market is also impacting international food grain prices, according to Himanshu

    According to Prof Sunil Kanwar of the Delhi School of Economics, food availability in India has not moved up or down by any great amounts. There has been only minor fluctuation of a few grams per capita, not kilograms, for certain items of food. Therefore, the increase in international food prices cannot have been on account of the Indian demand, he suggests.

    If India were to enter the international food market as a buyer, this will have an impact on prices but India has not done that for some time, says Prof Kanwar.

    Prof K. Sundaram of the Delhi School of Economics has also observed that the per capita availability of food in India has been going down, although this is not necessarily the case with total cereal consumption in the country. Prof CP Chandrashekhar of JNU also maintains that the per capita availability of food in the country has been down since the 90s. In India and Africa, the consumption of cereals has been falling on average, he notes. So, why the dodgy economic arguments of the US President, experts here wonder.

  • V.Srivastava

    The most important among the internal threats to sustainable food security is the damage to the ecological foundations essential for sustained agricultural advance, like land, water, forests and biodiversity. Second, in the areas of farm economics, resource flow to the agriculture sector is declining and indebtedness of small and marginal farm families is rising. Input costs are increasing, while factor productivity is declining. Third, a technology fatigue has further aggravated farmers’ problems, since the smaller the farm the greater is the need for sustained marketable surplus, in order to have cash income. Linkages between the laboratory and the field have weakened and extension services have often little to extend by way of location, time and farming system specific information and advice (chapter on Wake Up Call in the NCF report).

    The external threats include the unequal trade bargain inherent in the WTO agreement of 1994, the rapid expansion of proprietary science and potential adverse changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level and ultra violet ß radiation. Though it is now over ten years since the WTO regime started operating in agriculture, serious attempts are yet to be made to launch in rural areas movements for quality literacy (sanitary and phytosanitary measures and codex alimentarius standards of food safety), trade literacy (likely demand-supply and price situation) legal literacy (IPR, Farmers’ Rights) and genetic literacy (genetically modified crops). No wonder the prevailing gap between potential and actual yields even with technologies currently on the shelf is very wide (Table 1).

    Table 1: Comparative Crop Productivity (Kg/hectare)

    Crop
    USA
    China
    India

    Maize
    8900
    4900
    2100

    Paddy
    7500
    6000
    3000

    Soybeans
    2250
    1740
    1050

    Seed Cotton
    2060
    3500
    750

    Tomato
    6250
    2400
    1430

    Source: Wake Up Call Chapter in NCF Report

    In the area of technology, there is also need to bridge the growing digital and genetic divides. Post-harvest technology is poor and there is little value addition particularly in the case of fruits, vegetables and spices including a wife range of tubers and medicinal and aromatic plants. Sustainable intensification, ecologically, economically and nutritionally desirable diversification and value addition to the entire biomass are important for raising small and marginal farm families above subsistence level. All this will call for initiating an era of knowledge intensive agriculture. Modern information communication technologies (ICT) afford an opportunity for launching a knowledge revolution in rural India.

  • OPENUREYES

    This global crisis is part of the illuminati’s plan.controlling financial institutions to create reform

  • Dear Aparna Ray,

    Superb.

    But might it be rude
    to suggest you grow food
    where you used to grow all of that grass?

    Peter

    Australia.

  • I am a bit slow, apologies, all, but here is the second verse:

    And you’re welcome, m’lud,
    to chew on the cud,
    if you’ll just let us first chew the grass.

    Hooroo,

    PR, on behalf of the Rest of the World Eleven.

  • A very good article that has incorporated lucid tatitic. The world need to know what the big nation are upto in food and beverage production and conumption level.

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