“If countries impose export ban, import duty, there will be an inflationary trend”

The drought in Russia and the floods in Pakistan that have affected wheat production will impact food prices as in 2007-08, says a senior official of the World Food Programme.

WFP Deputy Executive Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva says: “The world is not yet there,” because the outlook for global wheat production is still positive. “But if countries start reacting to the phenomenon by imposing export bans, import duty and that kind of restrictions that start distorting the market, … we have the risk of having an inflationary trend on food prices in 2011 and 2012,” he told The Hindu here.

Mr. Lopes da Silva heads the External Relations for the WFP and is a globally acclaimed expert on Emergency Operations. He is here looking for a new outlook for relations with India that contributes $20-$30 million to the WFP a year. One of the main players in the WFP's support to the school-feeding programme in Afghanistan, India donates high-energy, high-protein biscuits for one million schoolchildren.

“Taking into account the successes India has had — despite the challenges in achieving food security and nutrition levels — in several areas, including food production, we believe we can take lessons from here to other countries and vice versa. Countries such as Chile, Brazil and Egypt are examples which have overcome in different context with different challenges,” Mr. Lopes da Silva said.

“The political commitment and how to achieve those goals for a country that spends $17 billion on the public distribution system are important lessons that one can take from India to other countries that do not make even an effort.”

At the same time, Mr. Lopes da Silva feels that one learns lessons even from difficulties such as India's problems with targeting, the management of the supply chain and access and consumption within the broad food security approach. “We remain in dynamic dialogue with India and other countries and serve as a platform to connect them in a multi-lateral manner. For instance, India can learn from Brazil the technique to prevent post-harvest losses, or about the management supply chain and about biometrics.”

On the debate on whether India's public distribution system should be targeted or universal, Mr. Lopes da Silva said that somehow social protection has to be targeted. Governments and institutions provided a safety net for those who fell below a certain benchmark, so it had always to be a targeted social programme.

“Although it is not much spoken about, the United States has [a] public distribution system. The big difference is that the PDS in the U.S. is in the form of food stamps: the beneficiaries use the booklets [of food stamps] to buy food commodities in super markets… It is not universal. It is for those who fall below a benchmark, and I know that the food stamps in the U.S. have expanded to double what it used to be because of the economic and financial crisis and unemployment,” he said.

“The concept of universal should be for everybody who is below a certain benchmark. The benchmark itself has to be dynamic. When incomes increase, so does the cost, and the benchmarks have to be responsive to that new context.”

As for the debate on the Right to Food in India, Mr. Lopes da Silva said the right of a person to have access to adequate food so that he can lead a healthy and productive life is a basic human right.

“In my view, the Food Security Act should be the conveyor of a broader vision for moving on to the next level of food production, processing food, improving the produce made available to the population. It should be legislation that has the vision to mobilise the society — the private sector, state institutions, the academic world towards the next challenge in India's journey to achieving food security. It has to go beyond the PDS.”

  • The outlook for global wheat production is still positive
  • Restrictions can cause inflationary trend on food prices in 2011 and 2012