Yes, there is always this glib talk. Talk of ensuring food security.
That is a fine sentiment, provided you really ensure also security to the farming profession.
Is there now food security?
Yes, there is. The godowns are overflowing with excess grain stocks. The food security issues crops up every now and then, no, every year almost!
In 2005, there was a poor wheat harvest. A similar dismal year the year before as well.
The wheat stocks dipped just above 2 million tones on April 1, 2006, as against 4 mt and 15.6 mt on the same date of the preceding three years.
Once the private traders entered the scene and sought buying up the entire stock so to say, the government found out there is a crisis ahead. Panic reactions are the government’s policy drive often you know, in food management. So, the government then imported 7.2 mt on government account during 2006-07 and 2007-08 to a ban also, on wheat and non-basmati rice shipping, that is exports. And also another mechanism, futures trading was also banned.
By the middle of 2008, there was almost complete control of the farm sector economy, all grains, rice and wheat, also pulses, milk powder and maize and edible oils were banned or subjected to stringent licensing.
Yes, this is food management in a nutshell, for you, the hapless farmers!
We had a visitor recently to our office. He is a Malaysian citizen and engaged in commodities trade, of course into agricommodities primarily and yet he is well-versed in all commodity trading.
What he said?
He said that the commodities trading is a highly speculative one and almost like jungle warfare! No rules or regulations, no words are kept and no words of commitment kept either.
So, this visitor-friend told us: you enter this sector almost dominated by the traditional trader’s communities, uneducated and the trade instinct comes to them naturally from generation to generation and whatever the government intends to do, intend to do to help the farmers, is made unworkable by speculative trade strategies. The friend said, almost in a brutal tone: You can be killed in a minute, the trader can just pull down the price and drive you out of the market!”It is as simple as that!
The point here is that for the farmers, the real benefits from whatever the policies of the government, are very difficult to reach for the simple reason, the quantity of food production (all food items) is one thing. What the quantity really comes into the government godown is determined by the procurement policy, of course the minimum support price is the starting point and then the government has to compete with the private trade, both the big MNC corporate traders to the local traders and then, after the procurement, the government has to also permit the private traders who are traditional exporters of commodities like rice and wheat and cotton and also allow the importers to remain in the trade, the government has to allow selective or otherwise imports. Now, raw sugar is imported. Pulses and edible oils too.
So,the really the highly organised and highly speculative futures trading, the commodities trading and local traders, the millers and others, the various intermediaries, the brokers all join together to spoil the party so to say ,for the down to earth grass roots farmers to get any real incomes!
So, now you will get an idea.
Food security is not one of producing such and such quantity of food grains.
It is one of managing the food availability, through the PDS. Even the state governments can play havoc with the PDS by the free rice and free such and such essential commodities.
So, from various agencies to private trade all have to play their part and as the recent column noted what happens to the Indian food security ideal is what the cricket-crazy food minister does.
What time he allots and what thoughts that goes into his mind?
It is, that is, the food security is always what the government does by its “knee-jerk” actions and reactions!
So, the conclusion: food security is not just a simple issue. It is not one issue. It is a multi issue. One of production, stocking, managing the export and import trade in these items and managing the PDS.
So, food security needn’t be just self-sufficiency in food. It is a question of the various aspects of the world food production scenario, the weather condition and the climate change etc.