Criminal neglect

Scientists are warning of an acute food crisis if the government persists with its current approach of neglecting the agricultural sector. Farm scientist M S Swaminathan, who spearheaded the Green Revolution in the 1960s and hauled India out of the ship-to-mouth existence, has pointed out that the impact of shortages in grain production and bottlenecks in its supply has been accentuated by the current food inflation, which he has described as frightening. He has called for reforms in agri-culture sector. It is not just agricultural scientists that are sounding the alarm bells. At the recent Indian Science Congress in Thiruvananthapuram, scientists from an array of fields ranging from climate change to space were drawing attention to the deteriorating food security situation in the country.

The food crisis is not one that villagers and farmers alone need to worry about. It is having a devastating impact on urban India as well. Experts have been warning that food insecurity is a problem that grips not just the chronically poor states but also the economically advanced ones. The country is already home to the largest number of hungry and malnutritioned people. In the circumstances, the food crisis impact will prove disastrous.

Sixty per cent of India’s population is directly engaged in agriculture and another 200 million landless labourers are dependent on this sector. Yet the government continues to ignore the agricultural sector. Despite the severity and spread of the food crisis, it remains preoccupied with monitoring the health of corporates and stock exchanges and has been generous in extending sops and stimulus packages to industry, even as suicide among debt-ridden farmers touched new levels last year. We have become immune to the terrible suffering unfolding in rural India.  Our approach to rural problems hinges on the flawed belief that high economic growth rates will somehow trickle down on their own to bring positive change in the lives of the poor. This has not happened so far.

Swaminathan has drawn attention to the annual ritual of finance ministry officials consulting captains of corporate India in the run-up to the budget. They should be engaging with farmers representatives instead, he has rightly pointed out.

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