Mehul Srivastava and Andrew MacAskill in Bloomberg:
Ram Kishen, 52, half-blind and half- starved, holds in his gnarled hands the reason for his hunger: a tattered card entitling him to subsidized rations that now serves as a symbol of India’s biggest food heist.
Kishen has had nothing from the village shop for 15 months. Yet 20 minutes’ drive from Satnapur, past bone-dry fields and tiny hamlets where children with distended bellies play, a government storage facility five football fields long bulges with wheat and rice. By law, those 57,000 tons of food are meant for Kishen and the 105 other households in Satnapur with ration books. They’re meant for some of the 350 million families living below India’s poverty line of 50 cents a day.
Instead, as much as $14.5 billion in food was looted by corrupt politicians and their criminal syndicates over the past decade in Kishen’s home state of Uttar Pradesh alone, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The theft blunted the country’s only weapon against widespread starvation — a five-decade-old public distribution system that has failed to deliver record harvests to the plates of India’s hungriest.
“This is the most mean-spirited, ruthlessly executed corruption because it hits the poorest and most vulnerable in society,” said Naresh Saxena, who, as a commissioner to the nation’sSupreme Court, monitors hunger-based programs across the country. “What I find even more shocking is the lack of willingness in trying to stop it.” More:
Siddhartha Deb in Boston Review:
In the summer of 2009, New Delhi’s Lalit hotel, a 1980s monstrosity that had recently been remodeled, hosted the “Second Food Technology Summit,” sponsored by the Ministry of Food Processing and the Confederation of Indian Industries, a powerful lobbying group. Experts and government officials sat on stage, taking questions from the audience, which included the chairman of the Indian Food Processor’s Association as well as representatives from Coca-Cola.
The questions were largely rhetorical, lamenting the obstacles to the modernization of India’s food markets. “No one cares about the sell-by dates of bread,” one man commented. “What happens when the bread gets old in the village stalls? They fry it in oil and sell it as bread pakora instead.” In the 600,000 villages and towns in non-metropolitan India, I learned, none of the teeming hundreds of millions of residents cared about the mechanized processes and international standards of hygiene that would allow India to join the industrialized nations in their eating habits.
Perhaps that is because those hundreds of millions have more fundamental concerns when it comes to food. The enthusiasm for expiration dates at the Summit must seem peculiar to the poor in a country where 43 percent of children under the age of five are malnourished. In sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is 28 percent; it’s 7 percent in China, to which India is so often compared. The Indian government’s own data show that 800 million Indians live on about twenty rupees (about $0.50) a day. Half of those are farmers who produce food that they, for the most part, cannot afford to eat thanks to the demands of speculators and affluent urban consumers. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), wheat prices reached a record high in February, and the cost of rice—which accounts for 30 percent of the typical Indian diet—hovers at around 22 rupees per kilogram even in Patna and Chennai, capitals of major rice-producing states. That’s about twice the average cost from 2000 until the middle of 2007, when prices began to rise sharply. The average Indian consumes 73 kilograms of rice per year, which means that farmers, assuming they eat at least as much rice as their non-farming countrymen, are now spending some 20 percent of their income on rice alone. More:
Lester R. Brown in Foreign Policy:
In the United States, when world wheat prices rise by 75 percent, as they have over the last year, it means the difference between a $2 loaf of bread and a loaf costing maybe $2.10. If, however, you live in New Delhi, those skyrocketing costs really matter: A doubling in the world price of wheat actually means that the wheat you carry home from the market to hand-grind into flour for chapatis costs twice as much. And the same is true with rice. If the world price of rice doubles, so does the price of rice in your neighborhood market in Jakarta. And so does the cost of the bowl of boiled rice on an Indonesian family’s dinner table.
Welcome to the new food economics of 2011: Prices are climbing, but the impact is not at all being felt equally. For Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we’ve seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity. But for the planet’s poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute — and it has — to revolutions and upheaval.
Already in 2011, the U.N. Food Price Index has eclipsed its previous all-time global high; as of March it had climbed for eight consecutive months. With this year’s harvest predicted to fall short, with governments in the Middle East and Africa teetering as a result of the price spikes, and with anxious markets sustaining one shock after another, food has quickly become the hidden driver of world politics. And crises like these are going to become increasingly common. The new geopolitics of food looks a whole lot more volatile — and a whole lot more contentious — than it used to. Scarcity is the new norm.
Until recently, sudden price surges just didn’t matter as much, as they were quickly followed by a return to the relatively low food prices that helped shape the political stability of the late 20th century across much of the globe. But now both the causes and consequences are ominously different. More:
A section of the front page of The Hindustan Times: Children show their scars in the photo by Arvind Kumar Sharma.
B Vijay Murty in The Hindustan Times:
A barbaric method of maiming and inadvertently killing hungry children in tribal India shows how the nation is failing its poorest and furthering the Maoist rebellion.
Children with distended bellies, characteristic of malnutrition and disease, routinely have red-hot iron rods plunged into their sides by superstitious, poverty-stricken tribal parents in the belief it will cure all stomach ailments.
Fatally injured or infected during this primitive procedure, several children die — there are no official figures — in a state where 17 of 24 districts are simultaneously classified by its own government as “food insecure” and “highly affected” by Maoists, who bank on the collapse of governance to aid their growing influence.
This is the belief: A child with a protruding belly has worms, which can be killed by plunging a red-hot iron through the sides of the stomach. More:
Kenneth John and Samar Halarnkar in Hindustan Times:
A child nibbling on a piece of silica-laced mud. HT photo
Frail, malnourished children eating moist lumps of mud laced with silica — a raw material for glass sheets and soap — because they are not officially classified as poor and so ineligible for official help: This is what an HT reporter saw in a village of eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Under an unusually hot April sun, skinny, hungry children silently poked around on the dusty edges of a stone quarry in Ganne village, 45 km east of Allahabad and a 12-km walk from the nearest road.
“It tastes like powdered gram, so we eat it,” said Soni (5), a listless girl with a protruding belly. With most families reduced to one or two daily meals of boiled rice and salt — with a watery vegetable on a lucky day — the mud is a free but deadly option at the 20 stone quarries sustaining the poorest villagers.
These families are not eligible for subsidised food and other state programmes, though each of a family of five earns about Rs 400 a month.
UP’s official poverty line is Rs 435 per person per month. It is people like these that Congress President and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi wants covered by a national Food Security Bill. That is why she pushed the UPA’s top ministers back to the drawing board after rejecting last week a draft about to be presented to the Cabinet. More:
Wherever he went, Mr Borlaug showed the same impatience. Paperwork was spurned in favour of action; planting, advising, training thousands. In India, where he set up hundreds of one-acre plots to show suspicious farmers how much they could grow, he was so frustrated by bureaucracy that when at last his seed came, shipped from Los Angeles, he planted it at once despite the outbreak of war between India and Pakistan, sometimes by flashes of artillery fire. And when in 1984 he was drawn out of semi-retirement to take his seed and techniques to Africa, he forgot in a moment, once he saw the place, his plan to do years of research first. “Let’s just start growing,” he said.
As a boy, he hadn’t known what hunger was. He came from a small Norwegian farm in Iowa, the land of butter-sculptures and the breaded tenderloin sandwich. But on his first trip to “the big city”, Minneapolis, in 1933, grown men had begged him for a nickel for a cup of coffee and a small, dry hamburger, and a riot had started round him when a milk-cart dumped its load in the street. He saw then how close to breakdown America was, because of hunger. It was impossible “to build a peaceful world on empty stomachs”. More:
Also see in AW: Norman Borlaug, who led Green Revolution
From the Guardian:
We’ve forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were watching “India’s 9/11″. Like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old Hollywood film, we’re expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though we know it’s all been said and done before.
As tension in the region builds, US Senator John McCain has warned Pakistan that if it didn’t act fast to arrest the “Bad Guys” he had personal information that India would launch air strikes on “terrorist camps” in Pakistan and that Washington could do nothing because Mumbai was India’s 9/11.
But November isn’t September, 2008 isn’t 2001, Pakistan isn’t Afghanistan and India isn’t America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so that we can arrive at our own conclusions.
Believe it or not, India has worse hunger levels than Sudan, Nigeria or Cameroon. Twelve Indian states have “alarming” levels of hunger while the situation is “extremely alarming” in the state of Madhya Pradesh, says a report released as part of the 2008 Global Hunger Index. It ranks India at 66 out 88 countries.
More here and here: