Food for all: saving, sharing is caring

Admittedly, man does not live by bread alone yet he cannot do without it. From the hunting-gathering era till date, the story of civilisation is but man’s pursuit to feed himself and his family. Access to a minimum amount of food and nutrition has sanction by all communities and nations. All faiths prescribe feeding the poor as a great virtue and several charities offer food on daily basis; in Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the langar (free food) service operates round the clock. “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” said Virginia Woolf.

‘Food for all’, the ultimate mission of all food strategies from micro to macro level seek to ensure its sustained availability and affordability for everyone on earth. Over a billion people in the world remain unfed, underfed or malnourished. The issue is closely linked with poverty, the ugly reality of many developing countries, and 70% of the poor live in rural areas.

“Hunger and malnutrition have devastating consequences for children and have been linked to low birth weight and birth defects, obesity, mental and physical health problems, and poorer educational outcomes,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

In fact, the world food production at 3.9 billion tonnes is adequate to feed its 7.7 billion population. Yet globally, around a billion are reported to suffer from hunger. Ditto with India — with 277.49 million tonnes of production as of February 2018, a 0.9% growth over previous year, millions still go to bed hungry.

One wonders whether it shall be realistic to achieve the mandate of ‘a zero hunger-world by 2030’ set by thr Food and Agriculture Organisation, a UN constituent that organises World Food Day on October 16 annually. With presence in 130 countries, the FAO has the support of 194 member-states, two associate members and one member i.e. the European Union. Its advisory this year reads: Don’t waste food. Produce more, with less. Adopt a more healthy and sustainable diet.

Considering the focus on just three crops, namely, rice, wheat and maize that meet over 40% of calories requirement, FAO refers to “many thousands of food varieties that are being overlooked that could revolutionise our future of food.”

High yielding varieties to increase production have limited scope because of their greater vulnerability to diseases, fertiliser requirement, mismatch with soil ecology and low acceptance. Knowhow for augmenting farm production, privy to very few R&D conglomerates, could be a big relief to feed the world’s hungry. But the costly proposition continues to elude us, forcing nations to focus only on improving the distribution and other channels.

Initiatives by foreign and Indian charities diverting safe food leftovers to the needy deserve kudos. ‘Food for All’, a 24-year-old London-based charity distributes nutritional meals to the homeless, the elderly, the unemployed and the disabled in Central London. In Mumbai, Delhi and other cities, food is being served to the marginalised people, mostly around hospitals and religious places.

Incentivise farming

At home, low procurement prices serve as a disincentive to the farmers, who increasingly perceive farming as an unremunerative profession. This is an unhealthy indication for the country’s economy and requires serious rethink.

The country has witnessed remarkable progress in the dairy sector; recall the milk crunch in cities till the 1980s when, in cities like Delhi, one had to queue up at 3 am to have the rationed quantity. With a smooth collection and distribution system of Mother Dairy and its state affiliates in place, milk is no more an issue. Dairy farmers, even petty households sparing just a litre, are now happy that their surplus milk shall be procured around Rs 24 a kg at the nearby collection booth.

Three months ago, one could see kilometres of roads laid with ripe tomatoes because the offer price was below the transportation cost. One wonders why collection and processing mechanisms for tomato or other perishable crops cannot be developed at rural levels.

A long chain of functionaries painstakingly contribute to each morsel you pick. By accepting food without demur, you acknowledge the efforts of many and also orient your mind and body systems to ingest the stuff befittingly. By same token, food wastage is blasphemy.

Hunger riots, sporadically taking place in various countries around the world, are controlled by deployment of armies. It is held that a tenth of military expenditure on repressive tactics could resolve the food and water issues thus averting crisis situations. Obtained from Mother Earth, food is nobody’s monopoly, and what’s more, it tastes sweeter when shared.

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Food for all: saving, sharing is caring

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