The Mystery of Food Politics and It’s Proposed Extrication

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The Mystery of Food Politics and It’s Proposed Extrication
The Mystery of Food Politics and It’s Proposed Extrication

BY
SHAUMIK GHOSH

Africa-Press – Kenya. Wars and cross border conflicts are known to stifle food supply mechanisms and impact production on a large scale. Ukraine being foremost exporter maize, oilseeds, wheat among other food commodities stands at an all time high supply risk of essential supplies. Food, famines and farming are conspicuously deeply connected to politics and governance. All policies claim to be designed in way that will assure the end of hunger, enhance nutritional values, ensure food security and promote sustainable agriculture in societies but thought, vision and policy implementation often don’t align with the elemental needs of commoners. In academics, Food Politics isn’t a new subject – it attempts to holistically study governmental and institutional policies that comprise of regulations, control, production, distribution and consumption of food. In recent years, there has been wide scale planning on a gamut of factors like usage of pesticides, Genetically Modified Crops and Biofuels. Climate Change also stands as a challenge to secure future food security.

Unfavourable climactic conditions are detrimental to food production owing to unpredictable weather, natural calamities and numerous environmental hazards cause further damage. In 2022, number of people affected by worldwide food insecurity rose from 135 million in 53 countries in 2019 to 345 million in 82 countries. Climate change continues to remain a challenge and its ill effects can be seen in health of citizens and livelihoods of small farmers. In the event of floods and droughts, weaker sections of the society get deprived of adequate nutrition. Small farmers struggle to earn enough money to pay for seeds, fertilizers and other farming essentials. Statistics indicate that while many countries especially in the EU as well as England have shown remarkable progress in this sphere, developed economies like the US and China fail to do enough to align themselves with the positive transformation. Many developing economies still find themselves doddering in the domain; albeit the adaption of renewable energy sources and solar energy.

In India, the farmer’s agitations that begun in 2020, seem once more on the flare-up. Farmers from certain North Indian States are demanding legal guarantees of a minimum support price (MSP), which is an assurance for the farming community and includes waivers of farm loans; and a demand to withdraw certain policies that go against the interest of farmers. Put simply MSP is the cost which government purchases crops from farmers, promising farmers a fixed income for their produce even if markets go bit volatile. Benefits to farmers are always a pivotal focal point in politics – as we see Donald Trump talking about farmer welfare in almost each of his speeches.

The current protestors allege that though India’s central Government did form a committee to address farming issues, it failed to include representatives from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana all three states being major grain producers. They further allege that the committee has hardly made any fruitful progress on MSP. Farmers continue bearing with a gamut of problems and crop failures cause huge debts forcing many farmers to even end their lives. Farmers want he demand is for the MSP to be fixed at least fifty percent higher than production cost of the crop. Farmers are wary of the government’s planned privatization of the electricity sector which will mean a hike in bills, adding to their woes. Many Indian state governments provide subsidized electricity to farmers, which help keeping key costs in control. There’s also a demand of compensating farmers who lost their lives in 2020-2021 protests.

Government policy influences the price around food’s production, its distribution and availability. Policies also ensure safety of the food supply domestically and internationally. On a domestic scale, food policy effort affects farmers, wholesale traders, food processors, retailers and end users. Commodity crops like wheat, rice, corn and soy are mostly central to policy making in agriculture. India’s Niti (National Institution for Transforming India) works as the top public policy think tank of the Government. Professor Ramesh Chand member of NITI Aayog and a Union Minister of State is a passionate farmer himself. He shares snippets of his study entitled ‘From Green Revolution to Amrit Kaal’ that he and Jaspal Singh, an agricultural consultant have authored. Professor Chand’s study reveals that MSP for farm produce is vital to safeguard against unfair competitiveness an malpractice in agri markets. Chand and Singh argue that in periods of glut MSP becomes important and as a measuring sustem it must not cause distortions in market signals and incentives – stating that India must use the two instruments of procurement and price deficiency payment. Both Chand and Singh accept that public procurement ought to be linked to the quantity required for the public distribution system, stability in price and protecting strategic stocks.

MSP in mandated crops should be realized via price deficiency payment. When MSP is higher than exportable price and implemented by a set procurement system then export without subsidy is impossible and many countries see this directly as a violation of the WTO agreement. In recent times India has projecting itself as the pioneer of the Millet revolution. Though bit highly priced the grain has been projected as a crop that is salubrious and can take care of nutritional deficiencies among adults and children.

Dr. Edmond Fernandes- Director, Edward & Cynthia Institute of Public Health, India opines that though the present government has taken steps needed to fix the problem of malnutrition through various schemes like Poshan Abhiyan, Poshan Maa and other local initiatives. However, it would be wise to address the problem through a cross sectoral perspective as cascading risks is impacting the concerns around food security and healthy nutrition. And what remains critical is to have these solutions reaching the last mile communities.

The National Institute of Nutrition has given many viable alternatives of low-cost energy rich diet which can address the problems of nourishment and immunity boosters, people need common and easy solutions, not complex systems and sophisticated mechanisms. Domestic and international food markets look strongly integrated and in the face of the war, is India playing a vital enough role in securing global food supply chains?

Dr. Fernandes strongly believes that India has always historically played a vital role in global food supply chains and in the midst of war, and a rapidly proliferating socio-economic condition, the onus will fall back on nations like India to play big brother during a global food crisis or shortfall too.

The doctor makes a pertinent point when he says that though surveys help understand the problem, they don’t necessarily help figure out solutions which are usually complex and calls for special talents. “Governments need to tap into talented individuals and not political loyalists,” concludes the young specialist.

Food insecurity can become an increasing problem in the times to come. While food prices are likely to rise due to climate change and a growing world population, nutritious food is likely to become unattainable for more and more people. World statistics reveal that almost 3 billion people are affected by food insecurity and malnutrition quietly continues to affect people in myriad ways – which one may not even be aware of. While the saga of protests, promises and new deliberations continue, the world must be ready to deal with food shortages, price hikes as world population will continue growing and supplies may either be inadequate or substandard in quality – if systems don’t deploy robust mechanisms to extricate out the problems that threaten global food chains and supplies.

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