Shrinking arable land

At the moment nothing is important for us than food security


For the past few weeks debate on food security is gaining momentum after the President Pranab Mukherjee promulgated the National Food Security Ordinance. By virtue of this ordinance, up to three-quarters of people in the rural areas and up to half of the urban population in India would be covered under a 1.3 trillion rupee welfare programme that would bring cheap food to them. They would get five kilograms of grains per month at subsidized prices (3 rupees per kilo for rice, 2 rupees per kilo for wheat and 1 rupee per kilo for coarse grains). The poorest households would continue to receive 35 kilograms of grains per month under the “Antyodaya Anna Yojana” at subsidized prices.
Over a period of time food security has emerged as a critical issue. We all know access to healthy food and optimal nutrition for all is at the core of food security. Or we can say food security is dependent on a healthy and sustainable food system. When we talk of food system, it means the production, processing, distribution, marketing, acquisition and consumption of food.In nutshell it’s food availability, food accessibility and food affordability that constitute the pillars of food security.
However, lot of imbalances are visible in our food system as people have been facing difficulty to have physical and economic access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate foods. Shortage of food has evenhit the people who carve out their living by producing food. Precisely, food insecurity is going to be one of the biggest challenges which people are going to confront in the coming times.
Let’s have a look at the aspects of food security in the context of our own state. We are currently in the process of losing our food resources very fast. Before taking a call on this, let me first share a small but significant incident of early nineties. When armed separatists were engaged in a face to face armed conflict with security forces, a known separatist leader launched an unusual campaign – Anaaj Ugav, Azadi Pav (Grow grains, achieve freedom). His campaign lost attention of people as bomb blasts, cross firings, crackdowns were dominating the scene during those days. The said separatist, though from the armed cadre, was ‘pained’ to see large scale conversion of agriculture land for non-agriculture activities, like massive construction of buildings.
Over a period of two decades, uncontrolled conversion of the agriculture and horticulture land for non-agriculture purposes including setting up of commercial complexes, residential house and colonies has come up as a serious issue. The activity if not stopped, is a serious threat to the future food security as well as a potent threat to the environment. During the last two decades, we have lost over half-a-lakh acres of agricultural land to these non-agricultural activities.This has prevented us to become self-sufficient in food crops.
Even as our food-grain production is reported at 4.53 lakh MTs, we still import about 40% of food grains and 20% of vegetables to meet our requirements. Notably, conversion of arable land for horticulture purposes too is threatening our self-sufficiency in food grains.Recent data reveals a phenomenal progress in the horticulture sector. In the year 1953-54, area under fruit cultivation was just 12.4 thousand hectares with a production of only about 16 thousand MTs. At present, an area of 3.25 lakh hectares of land is under fruit cultivation and the fruit production has touched all time high of 22 lakhs MTs.
When we talk of land conversion from rural point of view, it’s simply loss of prime agricultural land, reduced agricultural jobs and wasted investment in irrigation infrastructure. This simply translates into dwindling agricultural production and ultimately a threat to the food security. However, when we talk of a logical urban growth, the conversion is inevitable. We have seen some conversion of agriculture land into non-agriculture because of the developmental activities like construction of roads, bridges, acquisition of land for railways and other public purposes. But this conversion is a small portion and above all it benefits the public.  Experts believe that the decline of agricultural production through these activities can be compensated by intensification and technological production.
Precisely, in a situation like ours, diversion of agricultural land will have adverse implication. It’s a direct threat to our food security.There will be food inflation, expensive food imports, turning small farmers into workers and urbanization of farmers for their livelihood. Less food production will even progressively increase the cost of public distribution system (PDS) leading to weakening of the food security supply chain. In the long-run, there will be inflationary pressures asthe price of food items will push up. Ultimate impact will be on common people who will witness a drop in their productivity and income levels. Thus, further worsening the poverty situation.
At the moment we cannot afford a slow response to these threats to our food security. Land conversion is a phenomenon that is almost unavoidable during economic development and population growth periods. However, uncontrolled land conversion will only lead to food scarcity. We have to anticipate our weakening agrarian economy. Remember, we spend major portion (up to 70 per cent) of our income on food. That means even a modest rise in food prices can turn into a life-threatening proportion.

Lastupdate on : Fri, 19 Jul 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 19 Jul 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 20 Jul 2013 00:00:00 IST

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