Sunday, July 24, 2011


Suman Sahai

The agriculture ministers of the twenty most powerful nations in the world, the G 20, to which India now belongs, met for the first time in June 2011. This high powered meeting held in the back drop of the global food crisis tried to hammer out a strategy for the farm sector that would help to alleviate the world food situation. Prime amongst the strategies proposed was for countries like India and Russia to export their grain reserves. Whereas Russia has traditionally been an exporter of certain grains , specially wheat, India is a net importer especially when faced with a monsoon that is less than adequate.

What quite takes my breath away is the gall of the Americans who pushed for India to lift its ban on exports to meet global demand for food. After the food crisis of 2008, India had imposed a ban on rice exports so as to meet domestic food requirements and avert a crisis that could result from high food prices. This ban, according to the Americans should be lifted. In addition, India should share with the Americans information on the amount of grains stocked and their location so that they can intervene more directly.

Quite apart from the brazen interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, the Americans in typical fashion, hold one set of standards for themselves and another for the rest of the world. American corn is burnt to produce biofuel , creating a shortage in the international availability of corn. The biofuel fad leads nowhere since without the unnatural subsidies it receives, it is not a viable product. Nor apparently is it good for the environment it attempts purpotedly to save. The Obama administration’s review of the American biofuel program found that more conventional energy was required to transform corn into biofuel than the energy it would save. Why doesn’t America stop its biofuel program and let the corn and wheat that it destroys , re enter the food chain ?

If the American heart bleeds for the hungry and if it wants to help the global food crisis, let it begin to implement its sermons at home. Instead of telling other nations to release buffer stocks of grain meant for the poor and hungry, let America first release all the food stocks it destroys to produce biofuels. Then let it stop the enormous wastage of food . According to the most recent report of the FAO, the US and Europe together waste about a third of the food that is produced in their countries. Once they have cleaned up their own act, may be they will acquire some legitimacy and be able to offer suggestions to others about what they should be doing to resolve the global food crisis.