Food: The New Luxury Good

TC-I frequently covers the headlines concerning the current food shortage crisis in India, and this issue has deep roots and sobering implications. Infochange interviewed M S Swaminathan, a plant geneticist and advocate of sustainable agriculture.  Swaminathan breaks down the global issue, its effect on India, future scenarios, and what needs to be done to address this problem.  He makes it clear that this is a problem that will become a lasting reality, and just as many of its roots are due to human action (and inaction), alleviating its consequences are up to humans running governments, policy, research, and technology.  The bottom line is that a basic staple of life is quickly becoming an expensive burden in India, and this is an area that will need attention and action.

Swaminathan’s thoughts on the future:

The government has to come up with a firm action plan. The National Food Security Mission (NFSM) must prepare a plan which will look into all the various inputs required to raise production.

The other point I would like to emphasise is that, in the future, governments across the globe are going to ban the export of food from their own countries. It will simply not be available. Today, we are paying Rs 1,000 as the minimum price to farmers for the purchase of wheat, but we are paying Rs 2,000 for imported wheat. A day may soon come when the import of food items stops. We have to be ready for such a situation.

Let me make it very clear that the days of cheap food are over, just as the days of cheap oil are over.

On the need for action:

We need to come up with a drought code, a flood code and a good weather code. I put this point before the agriculture minister. They need to come up with a scheme very quickly. Grain reserves are important for food security, seed reserves are important for crop security, and a proper contingency plan must be in place to ensure minimum devastation in case of floods. Such a plan does not mean a mere piece of paper, rather it should help direct a farmer who has lost his main crop to come up with a second plan; what kind of crop he should grow next.