Sunday, October 19, 2008


How can one explain the reality to day that the global food grain yield grew by 4% while the food prices registered a staggering 22%?. The 2007 food grain production of 2.3 billion tons, mathematically speaking must satisfy the needs of the current world population and hunger should not be as critical as being experienced at present. The classical demand-supply nexus should have brought down the prices instead of showing dramatic upward swing!

According the World Bank Report of September 2, 2008, 3.14 billion people lived in 2005 with less than $ 2.50 a day of which 44% had less than $ 1.25 income per day. A larger question is whether these statistics tell the real story or it is making hunger a sensational news. When one talks about average values, there are many who may be getting much less than this amount and unless a stratification of income at different levels is done a clear picture of the extent of real destitute that live in this world cannot be correctly estimated. The value of $ 1.25 is not too low to be decried and in terms of rupees it can fetch about Rs 70 which can definitely buy foods that will keep the body and soul together. Even at to day's costs 400g of Ragi or wheat or any other grain, 200 ml of milk, 50g of dal, 200g of vegetables and 30g of oil can be purchased at Rs 20-24, at least in India. Of course this needs to be cooked before consumption for which fuel and a roof over the head are required. Expenditure on clothing and other needs also will cost money. The per capita figure indicates that in a family of 2 the income becomes Rs 140 which is not a small amount to be frowned upon.But all said and done hunger cannot be an issue at such income levels.

Mal nutrition is another thing which should not be confused with hunger. The World Bank report says 30000 people die every day because of mal nutrition, curable diseases and severe starvation of which 85% are children and in the last 40 years more than 300 million deaths that occurred were avoidable. One of the anomalies of wealth distribution is reflected by the fact that top 10% of the world own 84% of wealth while bottom half of the population barely owns 1% of the wealth. It may not be correct to point an accusing finger to more than 1000 billionaires who straddle this world as most of them became what they are to day due to their enterprising and intense efforts, though opportunities must have played a key role. The question for which a ready answer cannot be found is how such a situation can be handled globally and how such distortions set right? The millennium goals, more talked about than acted upon, give some hope as the rich nations pledged economic help to their poor counterparts. The world must change the philosophy of gifting food grains to poor countries and instead concentrate on building infrastructure and technological foundation for agriculture which only can bring about changes in the global environment and ensure social equity.

Coming back to the food grain prices, can one blame the operation of the commodity futures system for such distortions as was claimed in the recent dramatic spike in crude oil prices? More than $ 175 billion is invested in commodity futures and such a staggering flow of money may bring in price instability making mockery of any planning. Added to this, the stubborn stand of USA and Europe in stopping the current practice of doling out huge subsidies to their super rich farmers also contribute to unstable prices in the global food grain trading. It is time WTO and FAO give serious considerations as to how hunger, if it is really a serious problem as is being made out,can be banished from the face of this planet within a time frame through sustained cooperation between the rich and the poor and save humanity from self destruction.


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