The government of India’s grain godowns are bulging with twice as much grain as is required blocking about Rs. 4000 crores. More grain rots on the sides of Punjab’s roads waiting for godowns to empty so that this new grain can be picked up by the government. Meanwhile India’s hunger levels are back at the level of the 90’s, with 20% of the population chronically hungry. Worse, even those not hungry are ill or malnourished.
So what is happening here? Let’s go back half a century.
Many of the transnational companies that today control the world market for food, fertilizers and pesticides, started off during the second world war as munitions factories and those manufacturing lethal chemicals. Once peace returned they needed to use their utilities for something quickly and they turned to making chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They needed markets for these, so they simultaneously started work on hybrid grains, to bring new varieties into the market which would grow abundantly but only with the use of their fertilizers and pesticides, and much more water.
India’s green revolution was based on this. Yes as its result wheat and rice grew abundantly in the Punjab and the State become India’s grain bowl. And yes we became food secure. But at what cost? Over the next few decades, with the government buying primarily wheat and rice for the public distribution system, farmers across the country, multi-cropping for generations, and growing water friendly and pesticide free millets and pulses, started switching to growing wheat and rice. But these needed more water, so they dug deeper into the ground water tables. They also needed fertilizers, which our government was subsidizing, and this lead them to getting used to them, and getting their land used to them. Pulse production and that of the much healthier traditional grains like jowar, bajra and ragi started falling, not only from being grown, but also from people’s thalis. Land started getting depleted and more and more fertilizers and pesticides and water were needed to produce the same amount.
On the user side of the equation, white rice and polished wheat were seen as socially acceptable. Everyone wanted to get rid of being thought of as dehati, so slowly thalis started losing diversity in grains and pulses and adopting wheat and rice. Those dependent on fair price shops didn’t have a choice as these two grains were all they could buy at subsidized rates. Falling pulse production lead to higher prices leading to lower consumption and lower levels of nutrients for a populace that was, by volition or economic necessity, primarily vegetarian.
Added to this was the media blitz for sumptuous new products with unpronounceable sounding ingredients offering us what passes off as food but in fact is an amalgam of chemicals and artificial tastes. With the biggest stars on the Indian firmament, from Sachin Tendulkar to Aamir Khan advertising the health benefits of these (remember that the trans national companies have ad budgets that can pay billions to our stars to say these lies) loving mothers wanting the best for their children, and kids with a yen for the new and hip, also started discarding real food for these confections (primarily made of corn and soya derivatives).
The result? Millions of tons of food rotting in government godowns. About 50% of all Indians malnourished. A significant rise in childhood obesity, diabetes, attention deficit disorder, heart disease and more. Alarming drops in water tables across the nation. More people eating less of less nutritious food. Bigger numbers sleeping hungry every day. An unhealthy population, starving farmers, dying land.
But let us look at the brighter side. The Ambanis, Aziz Premji and Anil Aggrawal just multiplied their personal wealth between 100 and 300 %