The key to addressing food insecurity in the country is to change policies that create hunger, says Vandana Shiva of Navdanya. This, she adds, can be done by shifting to a decentralised, democratic and sustainable food system with farmers as the key producer and ensuring that the system has a bottom-up approach that recognises farmers, women and villagers as primary custodians of food security starting at the household level.
Referring to the Opposition-sponsored “Bharat bandh” this past Monday “to address the crisis of price rise of essential commodities including food'', Dr. Shiva regrets that food is no longer a fundamental right; it has turned into a commodity to be traded in volatile international markets. “Even as the nation protests,” she adds, “the government has failed to reach a consensus on how to tackle the crisis. The proposed National Food Security Bill currently under discussion was promised by the government as a solution to hunger and malnutrition, yet it does not seem to address the real causes of hunger and malnutrition.''
According to Dr. Shiva, the proposed Bill would fail as it seeks to limit the entitlements to Below Poverty Line households. “It also takes an extremely reductive figure for BPL households, thus failing to address nutritional needs of a nation that has one million children dying of malnutrition every year. It plans to do away with the Public Distribution System, which is the core strength of foodgrain distribution, to be replaced with coupons or cash transfers or smart cards.''
“The Bill will be limiting by proposing replacement of the Public Distribution System to the poor with corporate coupons. Truth is, all coupons will do is increase multinational turnovers while reducing public investment in social welfare, worsening the hunger and malnutrition crisis,'' she cautions, adding, “If in the present system food has become a commodity, hunger has become a commercial avenue for public profits.”
Attacking government policies for growing malnutrition, rising prices of essential commodities and farmers' suicides, Dr. Shiva says the proposed National Food Security Act “cannot be accepted as a solution to the food crisis, but instead is offering the disease as the cure, for India's food problem is one of lack of entitlements, not lack of food”. The current practice of maintaining high buffer stocks of foodgrains only to distribute to the targeted beneficiaries is resulting in both human and financial losses.
According to her, the new agriculture policy that focuses on privatisation, intensive agriculture and monopoly agribusinesses in agrarian markets has affected the countryside dramatically: the spate of suicides by farmers is a direct consequence.