The truth of grains

The recent starvation deaths in Orissa have thrown up a more fundamental question -- that of local food security.

Published: Sunday 30 September 2001

The recent starvation deaths in Orissa have thrown up a more fundamental question -- that of local food security. While we take pride in declaring to the world that India is 'food secure', millions of poor still go to bed hungry. If anything it's a national shame that while on one hand, we are unable to tackle the problem of plenty, there are such disturbing reports of starvation deaths. Yes, we have national food security, but also total local food insecurity.

The Union government's response has been shocking. Consumer affairs minister, Shanta Kumar, dismissed the reports as "a politically-motivated canard". There was poverty, but the country's image should not be tarnished by spreading 'false' reports, he said.

And Kashipur is just one district. There are many more across the country where the people are so abysmally poor they cannot afford to buy foodgrains even at the low prices fixed by the government. They eat wild roots and mango kernel -- and pay with their lives.

One suggestion put forth by agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan is for decentralisation of procurement, storage and distribution and to set up foodgrain banks at the grassroot level. As an instrument of sustainable food and nutrition security, he says, community food banks (cfb) can be launched at the village level, with initial food supplies coming as a grant from governments and donor agencies like the World Food Programme and later sustained through local purchases and continued government and international support. This plan combined with efforts for local water security -- water harvesting at each settlement, which improves agricultural and livestock productivity -- can see us through a million water scarce periods.

What is required is political will, vision and leadership. Unfortunately, the whole issue has been hijacked by opportunistic politics.

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