pThis is an extension of Dilip's post on How the Other Half Lives - and the ensuing discussions....
According to the Global Hunger Report, India is ranked 96th out of the 119 countries surveyed (GHR does not include the North American, Western European countries, and Australia, since it assumes that there is no hunger in these countries, and evething is hunky dory!)... More importantly, in terms of child malnutrition, India ranks 117/119 (we beat Nepal and Bangladesh on this count)
In 50s and 60s, India did not produce enough grains to feed its population, and we were dependent on foreign food aid (Lal Bahadur Shastry, India’s 2nd Prime Minister, even made an appeal to people to keep fast for one meal a week as a solution - and bizzaire though it may appear to people now, but a large number of Indians actually followed that appeal).
Here is a Govt Ad of that time
And a news headline
Then, during the 60s and 70s, we had the ‘green revolution’, growth in fertilizer industry, etc… In any case, by 80s, India had become a food surplus nation - and has remained so. We are world’s 2nd largest exporter of rice, 5th largest exporter of wheat, 2nd largest producer of vegetables and largest producer of milk, etc. etc.
The Global Hunger Report also shows that between 1981 and 1992, the India score fell down from 41 to 32, and then to 25 by 1997. Since then, there has been no change (a low score shows less hunger)… So actually, it is during the last decade or so, that India has stopped making any progress in feeding its poor.
One of the reasons for this paradox that - despite being a food surplus nation, India figures among the most hungry nation - is the change in Govt policy around ‘92 or so. At that time, Govt of India (GOI) decided to increase the price (or decrease the ’subsidy’)of grains and commodities in the Public Distribution System (PDS - the ‘ration shops’).
This resulted in two things - good and bad:
One easy intellectual trap in trying to understand this paradox is to reduce it to a discussion about the relative virtues of ’socialism’ or ‘capitalism’. This black/white - socialism vs. capitalism - kind of world-view, in any case, is too opaque to bring forth the nuances of an issue into focus (There are a wide variety of socialist and capitalist systems across the world - some are good for people and some are a disaster).
The Global Hunger Report rankings essentially implies that inspite of having all the ‘feel good’ statistics about India (GDP, Exports, BIC Report, etc.)... they don't add up to the building up of a sustainable society.
Perhaps, it is more meaningful to focus on the specific Govt. policies, and the implications they have on people and sustainability of socio-economic growth.
Ealier this year, the Govt (in this case following Capitalist policies) opened up the grain-procurement market to private sector traders/MNCs (e.g.,Cargill, HLL, Reliance, Continental, etc.), and the buying prices shot up beyond the limits that FCI (Food Corporation of India, which procures grains for the PDS) has... FCI did not procure much grains from famers.
Since the prices of grains shot up, the Govt (in this case following Socialist policies) imported wheat to keep the prices down in the 'subsidised' open market
By conventional logic, the farmers would have benefitted by the high prices they got from the private player... And some - the bigger ones - did, it is true.
But the policy ignores a fact that 65% of consumers of food-grains are also its producers. These are the small and marginal farmers with less than a hectare or 2-4 hectare of land... Given the tiny quantity of their produce, they are not a part of the supply-chain of the big MNCs, and since the govt brought down the prices in the open market/mandis, they can't sell their produce at a higher price.
So, if you happen to be a small/marginal farmer:
Not that it would matter to the small/marginal farmer... but perhaps - for some of us (the 15mn Indians who read/write blogs) - it provides an intellectually satisfying explanation about why in a food-surplus land, we have starvation deaths and farmer suicides...!!!!