Sunday, August 21, 2011

Famine, Food Security - Need for rethinking

It has been reported in the news papers all over the world that there is famine in east Africa and over 12 million people are displaced and need food aid (Guardian UK news article below). We have heard it all before and hunger and famine in Africa is so common in our minds that we almost have become desensitized to it. UN and FAO send out a press releases and various governments respond with token gestures of food aid and then every thing gets forgotten. Some governments even fudge the statistics by lowering the calorific value and pretend that they are doing such a good job in removing poverty. However, if you look at the FAO map below you will see that malnutrition and hunger has not come down much at all in any significant manner.

Is the main cause lack of food production alone? If one looks at the food production of main commodities of maize rice and wheat then one know that the production is increasing in the world. 

Despite the production of grains in the world famine and hunger are increasing. Question is why? 
The map below is the corruption map from Transparency International ( which tracks the corruption among countries of the world. If one overlaps the hunger map with the corruption map then the answer is very evident. Despite UN and everyone one saying that this hunger is due to prolonged droughts and displacement, I believe that this hunger is due to corruption in these countries. For eg., in Somalia where there is over 40% malnutrition, if corruption ranking is looked at then it has a ranking of 1.4 which is the lowest ie one of the most corrupt countries. Australia also had prolonged drought spanning over 8 years however people did not suffer from malnutrition due to lack of food or lack of access to food. 

It is time public forced these countries and organizations in such as UN and FAO to rethink their hunger strategy rather than constantly asking countries where farmers work hard to produce food and people work hard to maintain a civil society with out wars and gun running. It is high time displacement due to war and famine get a second look. It is estimated that there are over 23 million refugees in various camps and many more displaced due to various reasons. Refugee resettlement policy was developed predominantly during World War II. However, this policy may not apply in the world of today where national security, bio security are also added to food security concerns. 

It is high time that aid providing countries stopped aid to governments of countries which are highly corrupt and stopped bailing them out every time with debt wipeouts and reduction in payments and so on. Refugees from these countries need to be settled in the refugee camps by developing alternative temporary cities and alternative temporary training, education and employment capability. World has a massive skills shortage. So why not set up training camps in these refugee camps so that the refugees or displaced people who are languishing there are atleast trained in a skill. This will also prevent hopelessness setting among these people leading to better opportunities for proper resettlement. 

Instead of just throwing in bags of food grains why not develop kitchen gardens in these camps so that people grow some food for themselves and at the same time find some purpose while waiting for resettlement. Kitchen gardens can be developed by using polybags used for grain distribution and minimal water. I have grown potatoes chillies and onions in polybags with minimal water recycled after washing clothes.

There are refugee people who are waiting to be resettled for over 15 years in some camps and these people have developed mental health issues. Why not allow them to be trained in agriculture activities when that is most needed for food security. Developed countries need to stop this benevolent patronizing attitudes and start utilizing these refugees as trainees. Countries such as Australia take over 13,000 refugees officially per year. How would it be if these people were trained in the camps to do somethings where by when they come to Australia they are job ready with language skills and basic social skills and can fit into the society rather than find it difficult to readjust at the initial stages. Some civil libertarians may say this is slave labor etc. The question is it is more inhumane to treat these people as nonentities and expect them to languish in these camps with no hope of resettlement unless they hit the resettlement lottery called as UNHCR list. 

It is time to get real for both aid donor countries and developing countries. Countries like India need to be stopped from government control of food markets which is neither helping the poor nor helping the poverty reduction. India spends over 15,000 crore rupees( 100 crore rupees = 1 billion rupees) on its so called PDS which is the Public Distribution System. This has created a perception among the general population that many people are obtaining food at a very cheap rate. Majority of the people are not. Indian government is procuring large quantities of grain and virtually wasting it through mismanagement and corruption according to its own reports. Countries welfare bill is increasing at at time when growth is anywhere between 7-9%.

Developed nations such as US, UK and Australia which provide several strategic aid to India need to invest in food infrastructure in India such as locally tailored silo systems for large scale rodent and vermin proof storage, transport logistic system with data loggers at both upload and download sites to ensure minimization of pilfering, in distribution system credit cards which allow people to buy the same quality grain as everyone else but can get re-embursed the differential in the cost between the market rate and PDS set rate at the local post office through registration and mobile or real bank accounts. This will enable traders and re-sellers to look after the commodities better and not sell substandard product to the poor who are mainly the purchasers of the PDS grains. There should not be any specific PDS distribution shops which distort the markets.

Indian government should be forced to re-think and redevelop its strategy so that food is distributed as per market principles and the government can not be both a purchaser and a provider which puts retailers at a competitive disadvantage. Government should not be competing against the markets unless market failure (ie market does not provide the service) occurs. There are plenty of retailers in India so why not provide them the opportunity to sell it to PDS card carriers too. There are plenty of post offices in India in every nook and craney. Why not use them more effectively?

This is not rocket science. However new thinking is needed. New thinking will not occur when rest of the world enables these people by providing aid and bailing out the corrupt governments every time there is a problem. World can not keep supplying food to the poor countries nor can they just turn a blind eye to corruption and say people in the developed world will look after these poor people who have been denied access to food which is the right of everyone.    

At least in India there is new thinking being forced on the government though fight against corruption and mis management. I only hope this will lead to a positive change rather than fizzle out in someway as soon as food prices are brought down artificially by the government to whitewash the whole cause. It is high time causes of food insecurity are addressed along with addressing issues such as climate change and national security. Once again there will not be peace and national security till food security is addressed. People of India had the knowledge of the links among the elements of climate and this is clearly shown in the manthras of the YajurVeda.

Here is a very famous worship manthra in Indian Vedas from time immemorial . It reads as follows in translated in english. It is taken from Taithreeya Aranyakam of Yajur Veda. It is said at the end of all worships to ensure the link between the water earth and solar systems are emphasized so that people respect the earth, water and the sun. Yajur Vedas consist of "manthras of actions" or "Karma =actions or deeds" to be done by people. It is clear that these people had the knowledge and respect for climate well before the current knowledge emerged.

 Manthrapushpam translated in english (

He who understands the flowers of water, He becomes the possessor of flowers, children and cattle.
Moon is the flower of the water, He who understands this fact, He becomes the possessor of
flowers, children and cattle.
He who knows the source of water, Becomes established in himself ( is centered, focused)
Fire is the source of water, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself,
Water is the source of fire, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself.
He who knows the source of water, Becomes established in himself,
Air is the source of water, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself,
Water is the source of air, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself.
He who knows the source of water, Becomes established in himself,
Scorching sun is the source of water, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself,
Water is the source of scorching sun, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself.
He who knows the source of water, Becomes established in himself,
Moon is the source of water, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself,
Water is the source of moon, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself.
He who knows the source of water, Becomes established in himself,
Stars are the source of water, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself,
Water is the source of stars, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself.
He who knows the source of water, Becomes established in himself,
Rainy season is the source of water, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself,
Water is the source of rainy season, He who knows this, Becomes established in himself.
He who knows that there is a raft is available, Becomes established in that raft.
King of kings, we praise thee, Who is the giver of all victories,
Who is the fulfiller of all desires,
Please bless me with wealth, To fulfill all our desires,
Oh, Kubhera*, we praise thee, Salutations to the king of kings.

Sanskrit original in Englsih (

Yopam puspam veda
Puspavan prajavan pasuvan bhavati
Candramava Apam puspam
Puspavan, Prajavan pasuman bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanam bhavati.
Agnirva Apamayatanam
Ayatanavan Bhavati
Yo gnerayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovagner ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Vayurva Apamaya tanam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Yova Yorayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati|
Apovai va yorayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Ya Evam veda
Yopamayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan Bhavati
Asowvai tapanna pamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yo musya tapata Ayatanan Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apova Amusyatapata Ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yopa mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Candrama Vama pamayatnam
Ayatanavan bhavati.
Yascandra masa Ayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai Candra masa Ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam Veda
Yo pamayatanam veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Nakshtrani va Apamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yo Nakshtrana mayatanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai Nakshtrana mayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ye evam Veda
Yopamaya tanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Parjanyova apamayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Yah parjanyasya syayatinam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Apovai parjanya Syayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ye Evam veda
Yopa maya tanam Veda
Ayatanavan bhavati
Samvastaro Va Apamayatanam
Ayatavan bhavati
Yassavatsa rasyaya tanam Veda
Ayatavan bhavati.
Apovai samvasara ayatanam
Ayatanavan bhavati
Ya Evam veda
Yopsu Navam pratistitam veda
Pratyeva tistati
Rajadhi rajaya Prasahya Sahine|
Namo Vayam Vai Sravanaya Kurmahe
Samekaman Kama Kamaya mahyam
Kamesvaro Vai Sravano dadatu
Kuberaya Vai Sravanaya
Maha rajaya Namah.

Africa famine: soaring food prices intensifying crisis, report warns

World Bank says shortages and near-historic prices for staple crops have contributed to the crisis in the Horn of Africa
MDG : Horn Of Africa famine : An ethnic Turkana woman sits on the ground in Turkana, Kenya
An Turkana woman sits in north-western Kenya. The price rises of food have been particularly severe in Africa. Photograph: Dai Kurokawa/EPA
A volatile global food supply is deepening the humanitarian catastrophe in the Horn of Africa, the World Bank warns in a new report.
Shortages and near-historic prices for staples such as corn, wheat and sugar have magnified the impact of the drought now ravaging the Horn of Africa, the Food Price Watch report said.
"While the emergency in the Horn of Africa was triggered by prolonged droughts, especially in areas struggling with conflict and internal displacement such as Somalia, food prices that are near the record high levels seen in 2008 also contributed to the situation," the bank said in a statement.
More than 12 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistancein the Horn of Africa, the report said. In some areas of Somalia, more than 40% of children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition.
The report also warned that production of biofuels – specifically America's production of corn ethanol – was contributing to rising food prices.
In global terms, food prices last month were on average 33% higher than a year ago, the report warned. Corn, or maize, has risen by 84%; sugar 62% and wheat 55%.
But the price rises were particularly severe in Africa. Corn prices doubled in Kampala, Mogadishu and Kigali over the last year, the report said.
Sorghum prices have increased more than fourfold, 240%, over last year in parts of Somalia, the report said.
It blamed the soaring prices on poor local harvests as well as shrinking global food stocks.
The report said corn stocks were at their lowest levels since the 1970s creating a situation in which "even small shortfalls in yields can have an amplified effects on prices", the report warned.
US production of corn ethanol – which the report said rose by 8% in the first three months of this year – was also eating into supplies.
"Another factor that adds to the potential upward pressure on the price of maize is the diversion into the production of biofuels," the report said.
Some prices had fallen back slightly since last February, but the bank warned the volatility still left the most vulnerable populations, in the Horn of Africa, dangerously exposed.
"Persistently high food prices and low food stocks indicate that we're still in the danger zone," the bank's president, Robert Zoellick, said in a statement

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