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Mainstream, VOL L, No 45, October 27, 2012

World Food Day and We, the People, Resolve

Wednesday 31 October 2012

by SOHEB LOKHANDWALA

“To those who are hungry, God is bread,” is what Mahatma Gandhi said before independence (1946). Now the question is whether it is valid even after 65 years of our freedom. Unfortunately, the answer is in the affirmative despite the perceived economic growth in a few sectors/segments and introduction and opera-tionalisation of various welfare schemes.

A country’s real growth is valued by its human development index based on child mortality, child malnutrition and maternal mortality rates and other social indicators. The cogency of its progress and failure must also be known to make a way forward for real-term inclusive growth. On the occasion of the World Food Day, which is observed on October 16 every year by the United Nations, let us remember that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security as something ‘when all people at all times have excess to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for active and healthy life’. A paradigm shift is needed to move from Food Security to Food Sovereignty by making long-term productivity and sustainability in the agriculture policy. This must ensure universal access and guarantee to ‘nutritional Food Security’, namely, to be inclusive of the legislation. The aspect of conditional cash transfer must only be supportive but not a replacement of the ‘nutritional food system’ which exists in the form of the Public Distribution System (PDS-ration shop).

Our Human Development Index—Where Do We Stand?

THE report released by the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) shows that India ranked way below its South Asian neighbours Pakistan, Sri Lanka and China in the global hunger index 2011. South Asia fared worse than Sub-Saharan Africa netting a score of 22.6 on the global hunger index, or the GHI. While India stood at 67th amongst 81 countries, Pakistan ranked 59th, China ranked fourth, Vietnam ranked 25th and Sri Lanka ranked 36th in the GHI. According to Action Aid, India is ranked seventh, ahead of Pakistan, Nigeria and 21 other countries, on factors of vulnerability in growing food and feeding its poor.
The UNICEF (2011) Report ‘Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed’ gave an alarmingly high figure of child mortality in India. It is as high as 17 lakhs. India’s Child mortality rate under five years is 61 per 1000 live births that is lower in comparison with our South Asian neighbours Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh which show figures of 54-48-46 per 1000 live births and rank 51-57-60 respectively, in spite of their low GDP growth.

The ‘Child Mortality Estimates Report 2012’, released by UNICEF, reports around 50 per cent of global under-five deaths occurred in just five countries of India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and China.

The Global Food Security Index (GFSI), a scoring tool that measures the drivers of food security in 105 countries, states that the undernourished in India consume, on an average, 240 kcal below the minimum requirement, which is indicative of the status of food deprivation in the country. India is ranked 66th in the GFSI, scoring moderately across the four categories of affordability, availability, quality and safety.

Some Reasons behind the Fall-outs

HUNGER and malnourishment are related to un-employment, inadequate health-care facilities, lack of clean drinking water, no access to sanitation and gender inequality particularly for the girl child. There is lack of proper governance; and the bureaucratic hurdles in implementation of various government welfare schemes further worsen the situation. The UN Special Rappor-teur, Right to Food noted that due to commodity speculation on food price, there were food crises and riots all over the world in 2008.

The Way Forward to Food Sovereignty

IN India nearly 45 per cent children are malnouri-shed and still 70 per cent of the population earns less than a dollar a day.. The grains which rot and get wasted must be distributed to the needy and hungry. Marginalised farmers and the poor landless must have the right to produce food with dignity, control over their traditional seeds, land and their food which will ensure the way forward to food justice. Structural reforms must be ensured towards Food Sovereignty so as to make agriculture more viable and profitable directed towards farmers. The carte-blanche approach must be put to use in gram panchayats and gram sabhas for the local agriresources
and co-operative farming which can create a food economy. To execute a long-term sustain-ability plan for removing hunger and malnouri-shment we must opt for Universalisation of Food, Health, Clean Drinking Water, Sanitation and Education (there is always the possibility for injustice by the exclusion criteria of the marginalised and deserving individuals and groups). The GDP growth and social sector welfare measures must be reflected and perceived across all sections of societies especially among the indigent marginalised groups. Speculators and hoarders must be kept at bay from the ‘Future Food Commodity Market’ to ensure price stabilisation.

All we need to save our children’s lives is by working at the global, national and sub-national levels in the remaining years of the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The other task is to leverage the MDGs as a driving force, with 2015 as a stepping-stone, to sustain sharp reductions in under-five deaths during the following two decades and provide universal access to essential health and nutrition services for the world’s children. We have to constantly focus on the farmers’ plight, children and mothers who die due to poverty, hunger and malnutrition; though such demands might be sound repetitive, in retrospect these help us shape a strong modus operandi for the change we envisage.

ON World Food Day we, the people of India, resolve:

• To eradicate the tag of ‘Sub-Saharan Africa’ related to child mortality, hunger and malnourishment.

• To make agriculture sustainable, viable, affordable and profitable for farmers by protec-ting traditional seeds, lands and biodiversity.

We resolve to make our food and nutritional welfare schemes ‘mother and child-centric’ by means of empowering women in gram panchayats, gram sabhas, agriculture and other allied activities.

We resolve to ensure proper implementation and moni-toring of welfare schemes like Public Distribution System (PDS), ICDS, Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) and MGNREGA—which need to be strengthened and reformed to prevent leakages and diversions.

We resolve to work on a trickle-down effect by way of transparency and proper account-ability in matters of governance.

We resolve to protect small food producers (those who have land less than one acre) from all sides and at all costs.

We must also try to achieve and focus on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which seek empowerment of women, eradicating poverty, the key to economic and social develop-ment with regard to Food Security.
We, as signatories to the MDGs, resolve the following:

• To eradicate extreme poverty by half on or before the 2015 deadline.

• To promote the empowerment and partici-pation of rural women as critical agents for enhancing agriculture and rural development and food security and ensure their equal access to productive resources, land, financing, technologies and markets.

• To reaffirm the international commitment to eliminating hunger and securing access to food for all and reiterate, in this regard, the important role of relevant organisations, particularly the United Nations system.

• To support small scale producers, including women, to increase production of a wide spectrum of traditional and other crops and livestock, and improving their access to markets, credits and inputs, thereby increasing income-earning opportunities for poor people and their ability to purchase food and improve their livelihoods.

• To reaffirm the right of everyone to have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, so as to be able to fully develop and maintain his or her physical and mental capacities.

• To make special efforts to meet the nutritional needs of women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities as well as those living in vulnerable situation through targeted and effective programming.

• To accelerate progress on the challenges faced by indigenous peoples in the context of food security, and in this regard take special actions to combat the root causes of the disproportionately high level of hunger and malnutrition among indigenous people.

Under the UNICEF banner of ‘A Promise Renewed’, a potent global movement, led by governments, is taking shape to scale up action on three fronts: sharpening evidence-based country plans and setting measurable bench-marks; strengthening accountability for maternal, newborn and child survival; and mobilising broadbased social support for the principle that no child should die from preventable causes. Concerted action in these three areas will hasten decline in child and maternal mortality, enabling more countries to achieve MDGs 4 and 5 by 2015 and sustain the momentum well into the future.

Let’s hope a better world prevails ‘where no person dies or does not sleep due to hunger and malnutrition’ and ‘for those who are hungry bread becomes a reality, not a dream’.

The author is the Representative to the Advisor of the Supreme Court on Right to Food. He has been working voluntarily as a social rights activist in the field of Right to Food, Health and Education, besides being the spokesperson of the organisation, Movement for Peace and Justice (MPJ), Maharashtra. He can be contacted at soheblok@gmail.com and mpjmedia@gmail.com

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