Why India can't feed her people

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by Vyom, Jul 17, 2011.

  1. Vyom

    Vyom Seeker Elite Member

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    NEW DELHI—From the moment Mather left the south Indian state of Kerala, heading 2,500 kilometres north to New Delhi, he knew there was no time to waste.

    In the back of his faded red transport truck were 27.2 metric tons of pineapple, ripened and ready for sale. With temperatures approaching 50 degrees, the fruit might as well have been ferried in a broiler. More than 20 per cent would be tossed aside by the time he arrived, fought over by cows, dogs and the children from nearby slums.

    As much as 40 per cent of all the fruits, vegetables and food grains grown in India never make it to the market. The country wastes more grain each year than Australia produces, and more fruits and vegetables than the U.K. consumes.

    Food is an all-consuming crisis here. Waste is only one facet. Agriculture, infrastructure, inflation, innovation and corruption are others. It is a scourge and challenge for this country of 1.2 billion people, which has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies with an 8-per-cent annual growth over the past decade.

    And yet, 40 per cent of Indian children remain chronically malnourished. In some areas, the hunger-related statistics are startling. In the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, for instance, where UNICEF and other aid agencies run mobile feeding centres, two-thirds of children under five are malnourished — a rate that’s higher than most countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

    In April 2010, reports surfaced that some children in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, were eating mud laced with silica, a raw material used to make glass and soap. The children were not officially classified as poor and were ineligible for official help, the Hindustan Times reported.

    Today, there is less food available for each Indian resident that there was 30 years ago. In 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, India produced 436 grams of food grains per person per day, a drop from 445.3 in 2006.

    Satyajit Majumdar, an economics professor at the Tata Institute of Social Studies in Mumbai, raised an alarm in a January report distributed by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania: “Before the situation worsens and we witness a civil war, it is better to feed the hungry citizens of this country.”

    Agriculture

    In many parts of India, the rich loam that once ran 70 metres deep on farm fields is long gone, sapped of its nutrients after years of aggressive farming. As well, groundwater levels in 20 per cent of the country are described by the government as “critical” or “over-exploited.”

    For about three decades, starting in the mid-1960s, India enjoyed a “Green Revolution” during which food no longer seemed a problem. In 1999, Indian farmers were growing 70 million tons of wheat, compared to 12 million in the early 1960s.

    But the Green Revolution came with a cost: hybrid grains demand relatively huge amounts of water and fertilizers, and plunging groundwater levels and soil erosion are the result.

    The agricultural sector, which employs more than half of Indians, lags behind the rest of the economy, growing about 2 per cent a year.

    Shrinking too are the country’s farms as inherited land is split and split again among brothers. The average farm in India is now smaller than five acres, 50 per cent less than in 1947, when India gained its independence. Smaller plots — some the size of a basketball court — typically means smaller incomes.

    And with meagre earnings, many small farmers can’t afford to invest in new technologies that would increase their productivity.

    This year, Indian officials estimate, farmers will grow about 1,798 kilograms of food per hectare of farmed land, down 5 per cent from 2010.

    The Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington predicts India’s agricultural output will actually fall by 30 per cent by 2080.

    “We are at a crossroads,” says M. Hasan, a scientist at the India Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi. “Farmers are desperate and uneducated and water is so scarce because they have used it faster than it can be replenished. So now, they are using so much more pesticides, fertilizers and insecticides. It’s killing the earth.”

    Inflation

    In recent months, Thanks to a surge in oil and petrol prices and the rampant corruption and inefficiencies of the public welfare system, food prices have skyrocketed by 20 per cent, and many of the country’s poorest—the labourers who actually grow the grains — can’t afford to buy them.

    Some farmers see no way out. Between 1997 and 2009, an estimated 200,000 Indian farmers committed suicide, buried under mountains of rising debt.

    “It’s a double crisis,” said C.P. Chandrasekhar, a scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “There’s both falling food production and people who can’t afford to eat. It’s a tragedy.”

    Innovation, Research and Development

    India has a well-earned reputation as a breeding ground for innovation. Cities and remote villages teem with tales of ingenuity.

    Just recently, Indian media have profiled an inventor who wheeled around Mumbai on a home-made, solar-powered scooter, an entrepreneur who has created a market for expensive writing paper made from elephant poop, and a group of university students who claim to have found a way to use the husks from coconuts to clean industrial spills in open water.

    Yet stories about advances in the effort to solve India’s food crisis remain rare.

    For one thing, young scientists simply aren’t interested.

    “Agricultural research isn’t glamorous,” says Sunil Nath, dean of the biotechnology department at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi. “In the summer when it’s so hot, you have to leave that air-conditioned lab and go out into the villages and fields. It takes willpower.”

    Nath said his department receives about 400 applications per year from prospective students. The last time one was interested in pursuing an agriculture-related dissertation was in 1986.

    “Students come in dreaming about winning a Nobel Prize; no one thinks you get that in agriculture,” he says.

    While China pumps $3.5 billion into agricultural research — Chinese farmers grew 6.2 metric tons of rice per hectare in 2008, double India’s output — India’s spends a fraction of that.

    In 2009, India spent about 0.6 per cent of its GDP on agriculture, down from 1.4 per cent in the 1980s. China, by contrast, spends 5 per cent.

    “We do this half-hearted,” says Deepak Pintal, a professor at Delhi University. “We have lots of brick and mortar with 46 agricultural universities and 17 national research centres, but how many papers published in top journals? Hardly any.

    “There’s an agricultural fatigue,” he continues. “We have nothing new to offer. Look at Canada, where every 100 kilometres there’s a granary. Don’t we know how to make new grain silos?”

    Since 1996, India has built seven grain silos for a total of 20, says Sumit Bansal, an official with the Food Corporation of India, which distributes food stocks to regulated shops. Canada has 400 silos.

    Infrastructure

    Foreign big-box chains including Wal-Mart, U.K.-based Tesco, and France’s Carrefour all covet access to India’s $435-billion retail market and are anxious to expand beyond existing wholesaling practices. This may come with demands that they make investments in infrastructure to shore up electricity supplies and improve local roads.

    This is, after all, a country where a 300-kilometre trip on roads near the capital can take eight hours.

    And there’s a good chance the drive will be in the dark. Kumari Mayawati, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, recently promised improved electricity to her constituents, who struggle through extended power outages every day. In coming months, however, locals will have to navigate only 10 hours of blackouts each day.

    A reliable power supply is partly what is scaring companies from developing improved refrigerated transport services which would help reduce spoilage.

    “The lack of power is a huge challenge,” said Ravi Kannan, whose company Snowman Logistics operates 200 trucks at 16 locations in India. “You wouldn’t believe how much diesel we go through.”

    While India currently has about 3,500 cold-storage facilities, it needs many more — enough to store an additional 10 million tons worth of food, according to a recent study by the consulting company KPMG.

    Corruption

    On a recent afternoon in Fazilka, a small, tight-knit community in western Punjab, piles of harvested grain sit in three-metre-tall mounds in a government holding facility.

    The grain had been rotting outside on pine palettes, uncovered for at least several years.

    Kapil Trikha, a local journalist, explains that this is not necessarily bad news for the local elected official.

    “He owns a brewery where he makes country liquor, and once the grain starts rotting here and fermenting, he basically takes it for nothing,” says Trikha, a reporter with Day and Night, a Punjabi cable news channel. “We don’t have the best leadership.”

    In October, newspapers reported that in Punjab and Haryana states, India’s traditional breadbasket, auditors had discovered as much as 67,000 tons of grain rotting under the sun. It became a national scandal.

    Tarun Khanna, an economics professor at Harvard Business School, has a theory for why politicians here seem ambivalent towards increased agricultural research.

    “Increasing investment in agriculture is the right thing for the country but they aren’t doing that because it’s not why they are in politics,” Khanna says. “The average Indian politician is there to milk the system. Even now, at a time when we’re facing a demographic albatross.”

    Why India can't feed her people
     
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  3. nitesh

    nitesh Mob Control Manager Stars and Ambassadors

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    Well, the wastage portion can be handled more efficiently, if we allow more private sector participation in to this field, they can come up with necessary infrastructure of cold storage, allowing private sector to come in retail in a big way can create lot of opportunities for processed food, which in turn can reduce the wastage more. This petty politics and unnecessary worry over big player taking the wind out of mom and pop stores is based on false rumors, and is hurting us in big way.
     
  4. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    we can learn a lot from Israel in this area they have turned areas that were barren deserts into thriving agriculture zones.
     
    Tshering22 likes this.
  5. Vyom

    Vyom Seeker Elite Member

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    We need to to alter our ways of thinking, and for that we need a system that is more responsive and sensitive. Kudos to the Jan Lokpal movement, we need such movements for efficient use of development funds and efficient bureaucracy.
     
  6. Iamanidiot

    Iamanidiot Elite Member Elite Member

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    Improve the fucking PDS system ,reduce the middle men stop forward trading.Increase the storage capacities and computerize the whole system.Prices will drop down by nearly 20-30% immediately.Nearly 30% of food grains rot in godowns
     
  7. Tshering22

    Tshering22 Sikkimese Saber Senior Member

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    For this to happen the government has to change bigtime. These useless idiots will ruin the country. :doh:
     
  8. Blackwater

    Blackwater Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    Sir i agree with you, there is lot of food grains laying rotten in India due to corrupt babus and there Tharkis netas
     
  9. nrj

    nrj Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    PDS sucks even after green revolution. Cant believe this habit was nurtured for over 30years. Nilkeni has been asked by GOI to review & submit report on current PDS. Hope some of his solutions are implemented.
     
  10. warriorextreme

    warriorextreme Senior Member Senior Member

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    every year we have record production of agro products but still that food rots...Why there are no safe storage facilities for agro products??
    should GOI allow private companies in this matter?
     
  11. nitesh

    nitesh Mob Control Manager Stars and Ambassadors

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    Saar, to save the middlemen, there is already screwed tightening happening to retail chains ;), seriously government has to get out of business of doing business. Or else the situation will not improve.
     
  12. Vyom

    Vyom Seeker Elite Member

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    We need PIL by an eminent lawyer on this issue urgently.
     
  13. Godless-Kafir

    Godless-Kafir DFI Buddha Senior Member

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    I think India will suffer chronic poverty at a massive scale if we don't control population, we need to be more pro active in sterilizing people and adding Sterling elements in the food so that the birth rate comes down. We have 22% forest cover and in the future if the population reaches 2billion people we have to cut every forest and feed the poor.
     
  14. Vyom

    Vyom Seeker Elite Member

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    Yes, sterilizing is also strongly needed. All those kids you see on the street begging on the street lights, mostly in group, are actually off a single mother. Without health, there is no education, and without education, they have little idea of what they are doing to the children they give birth to when they can hardly take care of themselves.
     
  15. aragorn

    aragorn Senior Member Senior Member

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    That is what a problem and solution too!

    They are purchasing food grains from farmers and storing it... they dont want to give it to the people even in the time of draught... they want to mint money from everywhere..

    how our govt is different from old time sahukars?
     
  16. Energon

    Energon DFI stars Stars and Ambassadors

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    Excellent article. Crushing poverty is one of India's endemic features which needs to be eradicated right away. Clearly there are many problems at the grass root levels but one common factor here is the lack of infrastructure. While I'm all for privatization, one must understand that major undertakings like roads, rail, water management projects can only be enabled with a mass government initiative. There is a comment about China's 3.5 billion dollar investment in the agricultural sector, however the returns on this investment cannot be elicited without the impressive investment in the infrastructure projects.

    And what exactly is it that the opposition will do? What have they done so differently in the past? And how do you directly link the problem at hand to the incumbent government?
     
  17. natarajan

    natarajan Senior Member Senior Member

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    congress has been ruling for decades excluding few years by nda
     
  18. Energon

    Energon DFI stars Stars and Ambassadors

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    OK so what radical changes were made in those few years, or how was this issue approached differently?
     
  19. KS

    KS Bye bye DFI Veteran Member

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    You cant expect a Govt that was in power for 5 years to change the misrule for the past 50 years.

    To their credit they brought excellent economic reform, foreign policy changes, Infra development, Crushing insurgency in Kashmir etc.
     
  20. Energon

    Energon DFI stars Stars and Ambassadors

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    Sorry, I'm not buying this logic. The opposition has had ample time to reform the railways, but they haven't. I don't know or care much about Congress or the different political parties in India, but what is clear is that the structural problems transcend political parties. It's not a matter of who's in power, but rather who takes on the Indian administrative system, and so far no one has shown any real mettle.
     
  21. KS

    KS Bye bye DFI Veteran Member

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    Pardon me, but just because you don't buy that logic does not mean it is not true.

    A Govt which existed for 5 years can only do as much when it comes to reform. Expecting them to correct everything that went wrong in the past 50 years is plain foolishness.

    They had the intent and if they had the time they definitely would have done that.
     

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