A few days back, the world population touched the 7 billion mark. No wonder the debate has gained momentum about how this growing population would put unprecedented pressure on already scare resources. The riots over food (in Egypt), water crisis and deaths due to curable diseases in developing countries have raised concerns over the population explosion. With the 7 billionth living child hailing from a country like India (and some other nations, symbolically chosen by the UN), the blame of populating the world and causing the global crisis is being shifted back to the developing nations and citizens of the Third World! But then, the moot question is – is the earth really not ready for 7 billion people and is nature really stretched for generating resources for all? Are the citizens of developing nations consuming more and is the population expansion in these countries the real reason behind the growing resource crunch?

Last year in August, Obama blamed India and China for the global food prices hike and commented, “As you see more and more demand placed on our food supplies around the world; as folks in China and folks in India start wanting to eat more meat and commodity prices start going up...” In 2008, a Wall Street Journal article concluded how human population growth will get limited with “the rising consumption trends of large developing nations such as China and India.” On hindsight, the answers to the questions I asked one paragraph above are – as often touted by heads of developed states – yes! But then, the analysis reveals a completely different picture.

The stark truth is that the total food grain consumption of an average American is more than 5 times that of an Indian (per capita Indian consumption of food grain is 178 kg per year, while it is 1,046 kg for an American) – this was revealed by the US Department of Agriculture in 2007. According to the same source, an American’s grain consumption per capita per day is thrice as much as an average Chinese’s!

According to WHO, the per capita per day grain consumption figure for the developing countries is a measly 2681 kcal in 1997-99; estimated to be slightly better in 2015 at 2850 kcal – while the developed countries were way ahead with 3380 kcal as far back as in 1997-99, a figure that’s expected to be 3440 kcal in 2015. The most repugnant situation is in sub-Saharan Africa which has a per capita food consumption as low as 2195 kcal; South Asia has a slightly better figure of 2403 kcal per capita per day! With a per capita per year food grain consumption of only 162 kg, Africa is a land of the hungry and destitute, and a showcase for the world to see the plight of the hungry in harsh contrast to the luxury of the developed world!

The entire hypothesis gets more transparent with the fact that the entire shortage and hue and cry over the food crisis is a gift of the West.

Researches by Stockholm International and the Food and Agriculture Organization show that the world is not facing any food crisis; but in reality, the food crisis is due to wastage of food. The total food produced across the world is enough to feed the world comfortably. A 2002 report by FAO substantiates the above hypothesis by stating that across the globe, “agriculture produces 17 per cent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, which is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day...” A Stockholm International reports states that US alone wastes around 30 per cent of food and water that can fulfil the needs of around 500 million people – or shall I say, a figure equal to the population of a country like Singapore or two Botswanas or four Swazilands for that matter. As per the latest study conducted by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology (in 2011), the total food wasted by consumers in developed nations is equal to the entire food produced in sub-Saharan Africa. For the uninitiated, around 239 million people sleep hungry every night in Sub-Saharan Africa.      Read More....

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Though a couple of months back I did write on this topic of Right to Food Act (refer April 18th, 2010 issue of TSI), I thought that one column could not have done justice to such a vast topic! Similar to what I wrote in my earlier column, there’s no doubt that the National Food Security Bill would come as a blessing for millions of families who sleep on empty stomachs; but the real question is, how will our authorities manage to mobilize this huge quantity of grains. Distribution in itself is a huge bottleneck, which I covered in detail in my previous column. But more than that, the other impediments are procurement and storage! Going by Food Security Bill recommendations, if the government has to distribute 420 kilograms of food grains to each of the 830 lakh BPL families every year, the government would require 350 lakh tonnes of grain every year! My skepticism behind the ‘success’ of this bill revolves around the current state of our Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns!

The obscene destruction of food grains in FCI godowns, which in reality are a real feast zone for rodents, is nothing new. But what’s most ironical is that despite food prices soaring up like never before, the government seems so very reluctant towards distributing their food grains, even those grain stocks that are on the verge of getting damaged, if not already damaged. According to reports obtained through the Right to Information Act, improper storage facilities and improper maintenance has destroyed a mind boggling 10,688 lakh tonnes of food grains over the years. What’s more shocking is that in spite of making allocation after allocation, and that too to the tunes of thousands of crores of rupees towards food safety and food subsidy, food-grain stocks worth Rs 50,000 crores had to be disposed off as waste over the past few years due to improper storage facilities. The incorrigibility of our authorities is so predominant that despite having knowledge about these damages, they still have not taken any adequate measures to improve the storage facilities. Otherwise, what else could be the logic behind the reliance on tarpaulin storage facilities for food grains. So much so that currently more than 170 lakh tonnes of grains are stored in tarpaulin facilities. The food grains stored under tarpaulin facilities not only have a low shelf life but also are exposed to frequent attacks by rodents. In the past, it was found that FCI’s godowns in a locality in Jaipur were found storing liquor for Rajasthan State Breweries Corporation, while wheat grains were left in the open.

If one goes by Planning Commission’s estimates that a family should be provided with 35 kg of food grains per month, then the food wasted over the years (since 1997 till 2010) could have fed 25,000 lakh families in one year, or 2500 lakh families over the last 10 years! This would have also been enough to feed 830 lakh BPL families (with 35 kg grains per month) over the next thirty years!!! In other words, adequate storage and systematic distribution infrastructure could have fulfilled the objective of national food security bill, all by itself! If mistakes of the past are to be overlooked (which shouldn’t be), the present stock of 590 lakh tonnes of grains stored in various FCI godowns could easily feed 1404 lakh BPL families for a year – and we would be still left with huge buffer stock that could be used in emergency for the future.     Read More....

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