Food Situation: Is It Really Comfortable?
Dr BK Mukhopadhyay
In South Sudan a staggering 2.5 million people – about one–fifth of the population – remain in either crisis or emergency level food insecurity as fighting continues in South Sudan, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report. This is more than double the number of people, who were experiencing this level of food insecurity in December 2013, when the current conflict broke out – bringing the country once again to the brink of a major hunger crisis. Accordingly, an additiol 3.9 million people are in a state of food security Stress, some of whom are likely to slip into crisis and emergency if livelihood support, security and markets fail.
On this score it may be pertinently referred that October 16 was World Food Day. This year’s theme is ‘Family Farming: Feeding the world, caring for the earth’ – in line with 2014 being the UN’s official Intertiol Year of Family Farming. The relevance is very much there – family farming is inextricably linked to tiol and global food security, in as much as both in developing and developed countries, family farming [includes all family–based agricultural activities, and it is linked to several areas of rural development] is the predomint form of agriculture in the food production sector.
The objectives of World Food Day especially in today’s context must not be forgotten. It refers to: (a) encourage attention to agricultural food production and to stimulate tiol, bilateral, multilateral and non–governmental efforts to this end; (b) encourage economic and technical cooperation among developing countries; encourage the participation of rural people, particularly women and the least privileged categories, in decisions and activities influencing their living conditions; (c) heighten public awareness of the problem of hunger in the world; (d) promote the transfer of technologies to the developing world; and (e) strengthen intertiol and tiol solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty and draw attention to achievements in food and agricultural development.
So, the question arises as to what extent we are now at the safe zone. Should we believe that the observance is merely a ritual regarding actual facts and circumstances? Are we really entering into a difficult stage globally and tiolly in agriculture? Agricultural output will need to double by 2050 to feed a growing world. Produce more; conserve more and improve farmers’ lives and that is sustaible agriculture! Given the pattern and trends in land use, time is ripe to seriously think over intensive farm practices so that the demand and supply forces get treated simultaneously. The farm sector is still to go a long way before a satisfactory position is arrived at.
The ongoing situation causes much concern. In Sri Lanka 32 percent of the country’s food requirements is met simply by imports, for which the annual expenditure is 100 billion Sri Lankan rupees. Dwindling food stocks and rising prices reflect the reality – the very concern, which, in turn, must be given top priority. The challenge of tackling the threat of climate change and reducing yield gap loom large.
The ongoing situation, thus necessarily, calls for giving a big push to farm investment especially keeping in view the plight of the entire developing tions. Though 60 percent of South Asian countries are still dependent on this sector, yet the growth rate of this sector in particular leaves much to be desired. In the entire developing block this is the reality emating mainly from idequate investment, rural infrastructure, research and development and idequate diversification to high value crops. Side by side : non–availability of quality and cost effective inputs, low efficiency of inputs, use and fast deteriorating soil health and water resources remain the critical concerns. Agriculture requires a big push to realize the much coveted high growth rate vis–à–vis food security.
In fact the overall situation on the food front has been – in the recent past especially – far from satisfactory with food prices ruling high all over the globe. Where is the journey towards feeding the world population at a reasoble price? Food prices are going up on a continuous basis – demonstrations as well as social unrests have badly affected a number of capital cities. Time is ripe for dealing firmly with the agricultural disarray.
Clearly, if the current trends are of any indication, the food and agricultural policy system is in disarray. The symptoms of such a disarray are not difficult to locate – incoherent / idequate response to exploding food prices; slowdown in agricultural productivity growth; water problems; a disorderly response to continuously disturbing energy prices; rapid concentration in multitiol agri–business corporations without adequate institutiol innovation aiming at properly guiding them; lack of progress in addressing scarcity; widespread nutritiol problems [ hunger / obesity / chronic diseases ] plus agriculture related health hazards [ avian influenza, etc ] and adverse impacts on climatic fluctuations.
Underinvestment in areas related to food, nutrition / agriculture [research / infrastructure / rural institutions] invite spill over effect / global impacts, among others.
Positive sigls also should not be lost sight of. So far fast emerging economies like India are concerned the fact remains that the ongoing trend is steadily moving in terms of registering quicker growth in agricultural productivity. Growth and modern farm practices and inclusive technologies are being implemented in order to foster the rural growth process. It is also a fact that cellular technologies, wireless communication networks as well as GIS based agro–software technologies are reaching rural India to dissemite vital information and updates on weather, farming technologies, fertilizers, livestock, commodity prices as well as stock markets. Still, a huge number of villages do not have access to advanced farming technologies and interactive communication networks, not to speak of the pace of rural electrification and clean drinking water availability. Is it not the appropriate time to broaden the sight and look at vital aspects – re–identifying policy dimensions and initiatives; capacity building through PPP, individual initiatives and joint ventures; boosting agri–business and agri–marketing; GIS mapping and harvesting trends; mitigating climatic change hazards; precision farming – optimum utilization of resources; leaning heavily on most modern agri–practices; micro–fince and micro credit and attaching top importance to food security? Needless to say the responsibilities are to be shouldered not only by banks [who have been duly responding to FM’s call of doubling the credit flow to this sector], but also Government Departments; NGOs, Commodity Exchanges; agri–marketing and State Marketing Boards and of course the Extension Departments of various States.
Time is, thus, ripe for a more well–knitted coordited action so as to : initiate inter–sectoral–linkages; progressive decision making, information sharing and performance improvement; capacity building; creating more opportunities for partnership building, development reorganization and capacity enhancement for the rural stakeholders.
Filly, we must keep in mind that “…Farmers are not just farmers. They’re teachers, stewards, and business women and men who deserve to be recognized — and celebrated during the Intertiol Year of Family Farming and for years to come — for their contributions to the planet and to us all.” – as opined by Danielle Nierenberg and Sarah Small, Food Tank. Rightly, the goal of the 2014 IYFF is to ‘reposition family farming at the center of agricultural, environmental and social policies in the tiol agendas by identifying gaps and opportunities to promote a shift towards a more equal and balanced development. The 2014 IYFF theme increases awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by smallholders and help identify efficient ways to support family farmers.
It is better not forgotten that about 870 million people currently suffer from hunger and chronic malnutrition. The economic and fincial crisis, the consequences of climate change, and the decrease in the amount of usable agricultural land worldwide will all exacerbate the situation. The fight against hunger is on and should be vigorously pursued. Investments in agriculture in less developed countries boost the local population’s purchasing power and constitute a vital contribution towards realizing the human right to food, specifically speaking.
The growing demand for food, raw materials and energy offer opportunities for agriculture, while at the same time refer to the very question of food security.
(The Writer, a noted Magement Economist and an Intertiol Commentator on Business and Economic Affairs, can be reached at email@example.com)