Will India return to a ‘ship to mouth’ existence?

Devinder Sharma writes from Delhi [summary]:

India is witnessing a thousand mutinies. Pitched battles are being fought across the country by poor farmers, who fear further marginalisation when their land is literally grabbed by the government and industry. From Mangalore in Karnataka to Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, from Singur in West Bengal to Mansa in Punjab, the rural countryside is literally on the boil. Large chunks of prime agricultural land are being diverted for non-agricultural purposes. 

While the continuing struggle against land acquisition is being projected as a battle by farmers for big money, the reality is that a majority of the farmers do not want to dispense with their ancestral land. They are being forced to do so. This has serious implications for food security.

Agricultural land loss in food secure Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh produces more foodgrains than Punjab but because of its huge population, it is hardly left with any surplus. What is satisfying is that Uttar Pradesh has all these years been at least feeding its own population. This is expected to change. The proposed eight Expressways and the townships planned along the route, along with land for other industrial, real estate and investment projects are likely to eat away more than 23,000 villages, one fourth of the total number of villages. Former Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh has in a statement said that one-third of total cultivable land of Uttar Pradesh will be eventually acquired. The State government neither denies nor confirms this, but acknowledges that land diversion is ‘large’.

Much of the fertile and productive land of Western Uttar Pradesh will therefore disappear, to be replaced by concrete jungles. In addition to wheat and rice, sugarcane and potato would be the other two major crops whose production will be negatively impacted. 

Who will supply the food – and at what price?

Policy makers say that with rapid industrialisation the average incomes will go up and people will have the money to buy food from the open market and also make for nutritious choices. But where will the additional quantity of food come from? Already, Punjab and Haryana, comprising the food bowl, are on fast track mode to acquire farmlands. Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab are building up ‘land banks’ for industry and Rajasthan has allowed the industry to buy land directly from farmers setting aside the ceiling limit.

Internationally, food prices are on an upswing. As Russia extends the wheat export ban till the next year’s wheat harvest, sending global prices on a hike, food riots were witnessed last week in Mozambique killing at last seven people. According to news reports, anger is building up in Pakistan, Egypt and Serbia over rising prices. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has called for a special meeting to discuss the implications.

In 1955: everything else can wait, but not agriculture

Gone are the days when Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, while addressing the nation on Aug 15, 1955 from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi said: “It is very humiliating for any country to import food. So everything else can wait, but not agriculture.” That was in 1955. Fifty-five years later, in 2010, UPA-II thinks that food security needs of the nation can be addressed by importing food. Land must be acquired for the industry, because the industrial sector alone will be the vehicle for higher growth. 

Will India slip back into the days of ‘ship-to-mouth’ existence?

Read the full article here.



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