No food

Published: Thursday 15 May 2008

palaniappan Chidambaram, India's finance minister, is angry about the global food crisis. This senior member of the international 'Growth Club' has been saying things, publicly, that may harm the divine cause of economic growth! He called the rush for biofuel a "crime against humanity". In the 77th Meeting of Development Committee of the World Bank and imf, he pointed out, "converting food into fuel is neither good policy for the poor nor for the environment". A late realization that there is a positive relationship between environment and poor peoples' state of being, but this is hardly the time to think so. Who is India's finance minister to talk about food while the Market has decided on biofuel?

The 'crime' is actually a business response to manage carbon emissions, originally triggered by unsustainable northern over-consumption. Then, barring few exceptions, mindless macroeconomic fixers masquerading as politicians in the South happily embraced the cult of over-consumption. Time has come when global ecology will not allow any 'smart techno-fix'. Let us say we need to address the critical issue of growth. But take a hard look at policies fuelling the demand for biofuel: they demand millions of hungry people subsidize a few people's bad habit of zipping around.

It is interesting the minister in the same meeting expressed concern that "the demand for biofuels will probably increase, and energy and fertilizer prices could be expected to remain high in the medium term". The problem is that no politician or policy maker will see this as an opportunity to move towards non-chemical agriculture. Healthy agricultural practice is an angelic act of respecting mother earth, but also can avoid substantial emissions from the fertilizer and other chemical industries.

Finding out a 'foreign hand' is a national pastime, while the threats are internally created. Our finance minister sounded revolutionary when he spoke of "lopsided priorities of certain countries" to provide cheaper fuel while large populations went hungry. The fact remains that the same lopsided priority is visible within the country. The minister was just placating a hungry electorate.

We badly need visionary politicians with courage who can interrupt the party and announce the bad news. The existing lot has failed to deploy the market for the good of majority, and we include all lifeforms in this majority. We wish we could call the market a dubious system!

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