P Sainath on Hunger, Farming Crisis & More ….

An excerpt from P Sainath’s talk during the Dec 8th – 9th Weekend retreat @ AID Princeton

38 days: The winter parliamentary session is currently in progress and it will last for 38 days. During these 38 days

  • About 3000 – 4000 kids would have died of malnutrition. Many more would have entered grade 3 or grade 4 levels of malnutrition
  • About 1786 farmers would have committed suicide
  • About 75000 farmers would have quit farming

All this as a result of policy making and/or implementation or the lack of it, as was famously quoted by Manmohan Singh in a response to a Supreme Court directive on hunger that its a matter of policy and does not concern the judiciary.  Speaking of policy, the Maharashtra government passed a law in the year 1963 to delete the word famine from all official records and documents.  The way we solve famine is by not mentioning it all. So the state of Maharashtra never had famine since the year 1963. [http://bombayhighcourt.nic.in/libweb/acts/1963.40.html]

Policy decisions are responsible for the current situation, be it in farming or malnutrition.  The founding fathers of our Constitution had laid out the “Directive Principles of State Policy” as guidelines to be followed when framing laws or making policy decisions. The Directive Principles, although not enforceable, were certainly provided with the intent to establish a just society [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directive_Principles_in_India]

Food Grain Crisis: It is estimated that about 250M tonnes of food grain is available currently. But what is the per capita availability or in other words what’s the availability per person. The per capita availability is not simply the total food production divided by the total population. It needs to take into account

  • Wastage: approximately estimated at 10% as per government figures. As per MS Swaminathan, its around 25%
  • approximately 12% is held by the framers for reproducing, consumption etc
  • Exports and Imports constitute another 3-5%

So in effect it’s about 200M tonnes that’s available and when divided by the total population/total number of days in a year, one could get a fair estimation of the per capita availability

What has liberalization done to this per capita availability?

While the liberalization policies were announced in 1991, the agricultural liberalization only took effect-starting 1992 since the agriculture year is from July to June and when the policies were announced in 1991 the harvesting season was already over. So in these past 20 years, if broken down into 4 periods of 5 year averages every year saw progressively reduced per capita availability. The year 2006 – 2010 had 440 gms which was less by 6 gms during the year 1956-1960. The highest per capita availability that was ever recorded was 510 gms before 1991.

The numbers are available in the economic survey of 2011 – 2012: http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2011-12/estat1.pdf  [A22 table 1.17]

Despite the low per capita income, the Indian government exported about 20 M tonnes of food grains to Europe to feed their cows. It was sold @ Rs5.45 per kg while the Indian farmer had to pay Rs.6.40 per kg.  Mr Zhavandia, a farmer in state of Maharashtra when asked, what the dream of the Indian Farmer is, he responded “The dream of the Indian farmer is to be born a European Cow”.


What is hunger?

  • Hunger when looked at from the people’s perspectives, is when those who produce the food consume less and less
  • Hunger is when 20 to 30 mothers in Mehboobnagar wanted the schools to be reopened in scorching summer in the hope to avail the mid day meal, as they would rather have their children die of heat than hunger
  • Hunger is when a gang of teachers in Mumbai/Thane requested that the rations be doubled on Monday since the kids come back to school on Monday after being starved for two days over the weekend. What the teachers demanded was out of their own learning’s. Finland implemented this way back in 1935 to address this problem in its rural areas
  • Adivasis in Rajasthan don’t get full pay for NREGA. A typical family of 6 will use what could be called as Rotating Hunger to avail the benefits of NREGA. The family has any one member of the family eat full meal while the others remain hungry in order to allow that family member to work and earn money. The next day another member eats and earns and this process is rotated. They manage their hunger by rotating the hunger

Gujarat was the worst on malnourishment especially among the kids less than 3 year olds. Its hunger figures are not far off from Odisha. But as per Narendra Modi, the kids are more beauty conscious than health conscious. Growth and Hunger are on the opposite sides of the spectrum while one continues to accelerate, the other continues to decelerate.

The government of India in an attempt to define Hunger had formed 3 commissions in 4 years between 2005 and 2008. The commissions led by Dr Arjun Sen Gupta, N.C. Saxena and Mr. Tendulkar had placed the rural poverty way above the government estimates. Mr Tendulkar’s commission was the most favorable reporting as it concluded the rural poverty was @ 42%, less than compared to what the other reports indicated. The way the problem of poverty can be solved is by redefining poverty. Anyone who earns more than 21.5 rupees a day in rural India is not considered poor anymore.


Why even talk about FDI in India, one needs to simply look at Wal-Mart in the US. Recently Sainath’s and his students visited an onion farmer in the suburbs of New York. The farmer tossed a yellow onion to everyone. The onions were really big. The farmer asked why the onions were grown that way, students tried to guess saying its due to the customer demand or the fad, it turns out that this is the size Wal-Mart or Shop Rite wanted. Typically one would need may be one third or best half of the onions and the rest is dumped as waste. This wastage was by design not a byproduct. The more one wastes, the more onions one would buy.


The farming crisis:

  • Shift from food crops to cash crops: Kerala is home to one of the most exotic cash crops – vanilla. This is then exported countries like the US. The initial years saw huge returns on investment, enticing other farmers to move from food crops to vanilla. The US companies gave subsidies to the farmers which meant that vanilla was being imported from other countries as well not just India any more. This caused the prices to go down exactly from 4000 Rs a kg to a mere 80 rupees a kg, exactly what the US wanted and leaving the farmers in Kerala with huge debts. The highest number of suicides is recorded with the cash crop farmers. Be it the farmers producing ground nuts  in Rayalaseema or the cotton farmers in Telangana or the vanilla farmers in Kerala
  • Credit (or lack of it) to the farmers: the farmer approaches the bank for a loan but the bank refuses the loan since the farmer hasn’t cleared the previous loan. But the moneylender who is part of this transaction and is present at the bank sitting right next to the farmer, offers the money to the farmer to clear his previous bank loan at an exorbitant interest rate. This money is then paid to the bank to clear the previous loan and the bank then offers the second loan which in most cases is half the loan amount requested for
  • Where is the food coming from? When buying food, the 25 – 100 mile rule should be applied. In other words, local consumption must be encouraged. In the US, there are CSA’s i.e. the Community Supported Agriculture where by the community buys the produce directly from the farmer. Take for instance fruits which are seasonal in nature. But these days grapes are available in winter, pineapples in January and that’s because they are transported from other parts of the country or in some cases other parts of the world. In order to compensate for the travel time, these fruits are cut before they are ready and before the last dose of nutrients has been shot into the fruits. And in order to make them look ripe and fresh, artificial colors are used.

The Human Development Index: As per the latest ranking of the United Nations Human Development Index for the 179 countries, India is placed 132. This is far behind Bolivia, the poorest nation in Latin America. [http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Table3.pdf]

Revenue forgone: The revenue forgone in terms of the corporate income tax, excise and customs duty on luxury items such as diamonds and gold can easily solve the problem of universal PDS. The revenue forgone for corporate income tax is a mind boggling 80,000 crores and that of gold and diamond is about 90,000 crores. [http://indiabudget.nic.in/ub2012-13/statrevfor/annex12.pdf]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: