Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Food Security in India - What can you do?

Food security, Population growth and future of food in India

Food security simply described is availability of food for every person in the country and further more available nutrition and necessary calories. Just before Global Financial Crisis (GFC) many nations including India were going through food crisis due to various factors including drought in food export oriented countries such as as Australia. Growing economies consuming more food per person was somehow identified as a cause for this. Some experts identified food logistics, involvement of multinational companies and distortion of subsidies and unfair trading systems over Africa as causes. Whatever the reasons are I am interested in Food security of India.

India is projected to have a population increase which is the highest in the world by 2050 only 40 years from now. This is projected to have not only a huge impact on its urbanization, carbon di oxide emissions and food security. This led me to ask what exactly is Indian food position today? Is the country producing enough food for its self sufficiency?. There are reports of up to 67% of the food produced in India going to waste and rotting. So the question is does the country have surplus food to waste and still manage like the US where there are reports of up to 50% of food being wasted, in the UK over 6.7 million tonnes of food is being wasted or is the food being wasted, despite having insufficient production.

I also collected the data on world population to demonstrate to people that both population growth or shrinkage and food production are serious issues and not some numbers made up by scientists and demographers. The table below shows the world current population data.

Data is collected from various web sites such as CIA world book, FAO and UN studies.

So what is the production and food availability currently in India? The following table shows this scenario. I just looked at 2007 food production data for a few commodities and looked at how much of food in gms per day is available for current Indian population and how many calories of food people are obtaining per day. I have not excluded children who do not consume solids and those who need less than the calories than required for adults. The figures are from FAOSTAT. A complete surprise is that only 1673 calories is available per person in India. Generally nutritionists will tell you that one needs any where from 2000 -2500 calories minimum for an adult. This figure is derived by adding common food items people consume during the course of a day. This clearly shows that even if 30% of the population (approximate middle class and above) is getting required necessary calories per day majority will not be unless food is imported. When food has to be imported, a higher price needs to be paid and therefore developing countries tend to import poorer quality food by volume rather than by quality. This will have a direct impact on brain development of children and countries productivity into future as children do not get sufficient energy through carbohydrates and sufficient proteins needed for development of vital organs.

Food security of a country depends on the agricultural production of the country per unit area in cultivable land. Developed countries generally increase production through better crop varieties and management practices. India made good inroads into better varieties in the 1960s through "green revolution". However even though growth of up to 10% is occurring in Information Technology, Manufacturing etc, agricultural growth is way behind being only 2%. In a country like India, as the population is increasing there is also increase in urbanization and more than 8 million Indian farmers have left farming as it is neither productive nor possible to continue farming.

What is projected to be population of India in 2050? In India the population is projected to be 1,748 million an increase in 562 million. India currently has approximately 54% of its population below the age of 30. The elderly support index for India is projected to be 5 by Population Reference Bureau which means there will be 5 young people to look after 1 elderly person over 65. If there are 562 million people added naturally that require more food production even if none of it is wasted. This can not happen if the growth continues to gobble up agricultural land. So how can population of India help itself when government neither has the capacity nor the will to make agriculture a priority or attract investment in logistics of food storage, supply and management.

What Can People do?

People of India whether they like it or not need to take food security matters into their own hand.

If people have agricultural land people will need to use Best Management Practices and best varieties to increase production under low input conditions. Farmers need to think not just about production and opportunistic rain but also on how to develop the soil structure and drip irrigation systems to capture and hold moisture. Indian farmer addicted to subsidies has never been trained to undertake this task through catchment management programs or land care programs. Farmers need to develop "green manure" systems and crop rotations and thereby increase organic carbon content of the soil which improves not just soil structure but also enable the soil to hold more available moisture and nitrogen. In addition, soil which has more organic matter will also increase the development of microorganisms which increase soil organic carbon due to their death but also increase soil health. Indian farmer needs to improve soil health to get better production and productivity in general.

At an individual and community level, people need to come together and lobby government to stop food wastage. They also need to start exploring possibilities of developing community vegetable gardens or home vegetable gardens which help to grow fresh vegetables for consumption. In the west an average person can save up to $1000 per year on vegetables even in a small vegetable garden (how to develop a vegetable garden is explained in this blog in other articles).

One of the key needs of India is is the requirement of water for irrigation. Food is "virtual water". Urban population need to invest in rain water harvest and stop wastage of water. I have noticed many homes in India not turning off running water, not turning off water when sumps are full and not using water to fill up aquifers (ground water table) through recharge wells rather than running off of water through storm water drains and leaking public taps and pipes. If you consider a home situation, for eg., a shower head releases 28 liters of water per 4 minutes, a 13 mm garden hose releases 100 liters of water every 5 minutes, A dripping tap can waste 1 liter of water per hour, and a garden sprinkler releases up to 1000 liters of water per hour.

The list below shows water required for these common products

the production of 1 kg wheat costs 1,300 L water
the production of 1 kg eggs costs 3,300 L water
the production of 1 kg broken rice costs 3,400 L water
the production of 1 kg beef costs 15,500 L water

Jeans (1000g) contain 10,850 liters of embedded virtual water
A cotton shirt (medium sized, 500 gram) contains 4,100 liters of water
A disposable diaper (75g) contains 810 liters of water
A bed sheet (900g) contains 9,750 liters of water

I hope this has opened people's eyes to the amount of water used for necessary items and amount of water wasted.

An individual can have shorter showers, use drought hardy plants such as daisies, gazanias and local natives in the garden to minimize water use, install rain water tanks and rain water re-charge wells when constructing homes. There are numerous water saving products in shops and on the websites.

Water wasted today is lack of food and high cost of food tomorrow. India is already being affected by drought and floods in many areas. This situation will continue. If the country has to spend majority of its income to import food, oil and petrol then however well intentioned a government is, it can afford to put money into education and proper welfare items like public hospitals and amenities. Lack of water has already led to power crisis in cities like Bangalore. This will continue to increase unless people act unitedly to manage land and catchments, manage urban water usage and waste, limit wastage and runoff and save water for agriculture and necessities.

Today 30% of the middle class is carrying to a large extent 70% of the poor population through subsidies, welfare and other policies such as employment guarantee schemes which offer no long term solutions but provide for survival. If agriculture is denied water and land due to urban expansion, farmers abandon agriculture for urban labour then India could face serious food crisis issue. It is already experiencing food inflation of over 10%. As the global warming is influencing the frequency of floods and droughts all over the world, it may not be possible import food from traditional food exporters such as the US, Canada, Russia, Australia and parts of South America. Food security of India needs attention not just by the governments but at the individual level.

Further Reading





Disclaimer: This is an awareness article only. It is not meant to be a population study and author is aware that there are many issues around food production, logistics and supply.

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