Our Right to Food

Greater Kashmir

Food insecurity is going to be one of the biggest challenges in the coming times

At a time when everyone’s focus is government formation in the State, some critical policy issues have taken a back seat. One such issue has been the National Food Security Bill.

 

This Right to Food Act was signed into law on September 12, 2013, retroactive to July 5, 2013 with an aim to provide subsidized food grains to about 67 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people—75 percent will be rural beneficiaries and 50 percent urban beneficiaries. 

 

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’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 even hit the people who carve out their living by producing food. 

 

In the context of our own state, we are fast losing our food resources. Uncontrolled conversion of the agriculture and horticulture land for non-agriculture purposes including setting up of commercial complexes, residential house and colonies here has come up as a serious issue.

 

During the last two decades, we have lost over half-a-lakh acres of agricultural land to these non-agricultural activities. This has direct bearing on our food security as this conversion of arable land is threatening our self-sufficiency in food grains. 

 

Even as our food-grain production is reported at around 4.50 lakh MTs, we still import more than 40% of food grains and over 20% of vegetables to meet our requirements.

 

From rural point of view, land conversion is 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 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 increase in 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 as the 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.

 

Meanwhile, in our population structure we have around 60 percent people in Above Poverty Line (APL) category consisting major chunk of lower middle class. The implementation of the Food Security Bill means highly unstable supply of food grains to this segment of population.

 

The Bill should ensure food security to this segment of population also and how does it matter if poverty line is redefined to bring more and more genuine people under the ambit of Bill.

 

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)