Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Food Security in India

Famines and Food Security

Famines and Food Security

Food and shelter for subsistence
The 1996 World Food Summit defined Food security as “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”

The essential pillars of Food Security are

  1. Agricultural production
  2. Procurement by government and market
  3. Preservation for a period of time ( FCI )
  4. distribution through market
Images of Famine in India during the British rule

Severe famines killed many millions in India between 1700 and 1900. Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen’s work on endemic deprivation stems from his experiences of the Bengal famine as a child.

The apathy and greed of Colonial rulers had a hand, directly or through inaction, in many famines. As millions died, the imperial government launched a militarised campaign to collect the tax arrears accumulated during the drought. Even in places that had produced a crop surplus, the government’s export policies, like Stalin’s in Ukraine, manufactured hunger. In the north-western provinces, Oud and the Punjab, which had brought in record harvests in the preceeding three years, at least 1.25m died.

The images below depicts the famine in Deccan and Bengal. The Photograph of a South India family in 1878 by W.W. Hooper, a Colonel in British army who took many photographs of Madras famine. Also see Grain destined for export during the Great Famine of 1876-1878 stacked in Madras beaches, February 1877.

The enemical policies of the British was the root cause of the famine Bengal famine of 1770. It was a major famine that hit Bengal and some parts of Odisha and Bihar. Bengal’s State was badly hit by this famine that caused about 10 million deaths.

Scientists and meteorologists have established that the entire ecosystem is linked. IN 2004, The underwater quake near Indonesia caused a set of waves that devastates regions as far away as Africa. A series of large volcanic eruptions in Iceland in 1783, an unusually cold winter in the northern hemisphere and a severe famine in Egypt and India were all linked by an atmospheric "domino effect". The Chalisa was preceded by a famine in the previous year, 1782-83, in South India, including Madras City and surrounding areas. One of the most severe famines to be affected in 1632-33 in Deccan. Almost 20 lakh people died in the natural disaster. According to old historians, the famine was caused as a result of 3 successive staple crop failures which led to starvation and diseases that were incurable then.

The Hooghly River Cyclone of 1737 is recorded as one of deadliest & Killing natural disasters of India. The cyclone, often referred to as the Calcutta Cyclone, did damage to the low lying areas in the region.Overall the cyclone reportedly destroyed 20,000 water going vessels which ranging from ocean worthy ships to canoes, and this cyclone killed 300,000 to 350,000 individuals, likely including crews of ship as well as the local populations in low-lying Bengal.

Images from Europe and China

In China between 1958 and 1962, an estimated 10 to 30 million people died as a result of Mao’s Great Leap Forward. The government was unaware of the problems and continued to export food and cut imports several years into the famine. Farmers were collectivised into communes of about 25,000 people and had to give the state a large percentage of their crops. Officials often exaggerated the size of harvests, and in many places the entire grain harvest was seized.

Famished Chinese child dying in a gutter - photo by George Silk 1946. George Silk was a LIFE Magazine staffer, working for them 30 years. He extensively covered many aspects of the second world war, at one point being even captured by the Germans, and then fortunately escaping. He was also the first photographer to document Nagasaki after the atomic bombing. Immediately after the war, he was in China recording the poor social conditions and the lack of resources and its devastating effects on the Chinese populace.

Vietnam was under colonial French rule for much of World War II. When the Japanese entered Vietnam, and a collaborationist French government sided with the Japanese. Agricultural focus shifted from sustenance to war-materials, specifically rubber. The Japanese exploited what little crop farms remained, and the invading forces commandeered most of these crops. An unbearable drought followed by flooding, caused mass starvation across much of Northern Vietnam and the resulting famine killed 2 million Vietnamese

Again, in Ukraine in 1932-34, 8 million people died as a result of Stalin’s industrialization programme in which the government seized grain for exports. It needed the hard currency to buy industrial equipment. Stalin refused to them food aid. Scene from the famine of 1921-1923 in Soviet Russia. In the Soviet Union in 1921-22, 9 million people died because of massive crop failures due to drought. Lenin did not respond until it was too late

A devastating potato disease, in 1853, resulted in the Irish famine. When the blight struck, British ships prevented other nations from delivering food aid. Ireland experienced a mass exodus, with upwards of 2 million people fleeing the country, many to the United States. At its conclusion , 1.5 million Irish were dead, and an additional 2 million had emigrated. In total, the population of shrunk by a resounding 25%.

The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962, Unnatural Disaster
The Famine of 1959-1961 in China
Top 10 Disasters in China Since 1949

North Korea 1994-98
North Korea with an isolated stagnant economy suffered a tremendous famine from 1994 to 1998. The large scale flooding had destroyed 1.5 million tons of grain reserves. Politically, Kim Jung Il implemented a “Military First” policy, which placed the needs of the military above the needs of the common people and was unable and unwilling to import food. Over a 4-year span, an estimated 2.5-3 million people perished due to malnutrition and starvation.
The hidden horrors
Driven mad by hunger . . . .
Mass-Starvations in North Korea

The war between Nigerian government and rebels resulted in blockade and citizens were not able to access food aid from donor nations and over one million people starved to death. Since 1991 Somalia had been in a state of political unrest and civil war. The citizens were left without a government and depended upon outside nations to come to their aid. Approximately 260,000 people died during the Somalia Famine from 2010-2012. In July of 2011 the United Nations officially declared famine in Somalia. The catastrophic famine caused by drought and fragile infrastructure resulted in the deaths of over 70,000 Sudanese. The civil conflicts between southern rebels and the government slowed down aid and made the famine even more severe. The humanitarian aid by relief organizations were thwarted by the Sudanese government.

The forceful cultivation of indigo in fields has resulted in 17 great famines




The destruction of food crops in Bengal to make way for opium poppy cultivation for export reduced food availability and contributed to the Bengal famine of 1770

Listen to: The Bengal Famine


Let me tell you one story. One day in front of the Municipal Office I saw a little girl trying to drink her mother’s milk. But the girl did not realise that the mother was dead.

Three million Bengalis died all over the state. Many on Calcutta’s streets. Not a single loaf of bread was reported stolen from the bakeries and confectioner’s shops that ...

Amartya Kumar Sen, born on 3rd November 1933, is an Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Sen’s interest in famine stemmed from personal experience. As a nine-year-old boy, he witnessed the Bengal famine of 1943, in which three million people perished. This staggering loss of life was unnecessary, Sen later concluded. He believed that there was an adequate food supply in India at the time but that its distribution was hindered because particular groups of people in this case rural laborers lost their jobs and therefore their ability to purchase the food. In his book Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (1981), Sen revealed that in many cases of famine, food supplies were not significantly reduced. Instead, a number of social and economic factors such as declining wages, unemployment, rising food prices, and poor food-distribution systems led to starvation among certain groups in society
Green Revolution and Operation Flood
India was facing a severe drought situation in 1965 and was literally begging for grains from USA. Lal Bahadur Shastri, the then PM, took up the challenge and created large teams of agricultural scientists. He personally identified Dr M.S.Swaminathan and requested him to come with long term solution. Shastri did everything possible to motivate them including the conceptualization and popularization of slogan "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan". This triggered the Green Revolution which made India self sufficient in grains within a decade. Shastri was truly the "Farmer's PM" and was called "India’s farmer PM"

Impressed by the spectacular success of the Amul pattern, and keen to have it extended all over the country, Shastri set up the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), in 1965 with Dr Verghese Kurien as its chairman

Verghese Kurien’s answer to Lal Bahadur Shastri and the genesis for NDDB

Lal Bahadur Shastri : Farmer’s PM

RTI appeal on shashtris death rejected

More Readings

Churchill’s Man-Made Famine
The Forgotten Holocaust - The 1943/44 Bengal Famine
Fearfull Famines of the Past
An Explanatory note on the Famines in India
Human rights violations
10 Terrible Famines In History
How Churchill was different from Hitler
Top 10 deadliest natural disasters in India
The Irish genocide
Politicians Did Everything to Destroy Us
Photos of Bengali Famine Paet I
Photos of Bengali Famine Paet IV

Sketches 1600_1699 calcutta
Sketches 1800_1899 british rule
Sketches 1500_1599 bombay
Late Victorian Holocausts : The Indian Famines
THEN AND NOW Poverty and un-British rule in India
An Explanatory note on the Famines in India

Evolution of Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS)

The introduction of rationing in India dates back to the 1940s Bengal famine. The compulsions at the time of World War II and rebellion during the quit India movement forced the British Government to introduce the first structured public distribution of cereals through the rationing system. The Department of Food, under the Government of India, was created in 1942 to co-ordinate the sale of a fixed quantity of rice or wheat to entitled families or ration cardholders in specified cities/towns. This rationing system was revived in the wake of acute food shortage during the early 1960s, prior to the Green Revolution. The creation of the Food Corporation of India and the Agricultural Prices Commission in 1965 consolidated the position of the PDS. To help the farmers, the Government also announced a minimum support price for wheat and paddy. The greatest achievement of PDS was claimed to be preventing any more famines in India. Overcoming the 1987 drought, considered the worst in the century, with dignity and effectiveness has been seen as the PDS's biggest success.

Also PDS is not cost-effective and its operations are too costly due to wasteful movements of grain and high storage losses.

Food wastages during storage


Shastri's method for reducing wastage and increasing production - When Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister in June 1964 the country was in the grip of food crisis. Shastri hated the idea of going around with a begging bowl. So, he hit upon a novel idea. Let the nation skip a meal once a week and also first implemented the idea at his home. Encouraged with the response he received from his family, he went on air to appeal to his country man to skip one meal in a week. The response was overwhelming.

It was called Shastri Vrat . Even restaurants and eateries downed the shutters on Monday evenings.

A series of reforms by Shastri helped farmers to participate in the Green Revolution. Shastri did everything possible to motivate them including the conceptualization & popularization of the slogan Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan . Also, he had cleaned up his backyard and converted it into a mini farmland where he grew his own crops. When news of the Prime Minister growing his own crops reached the common man, he became a role model and a source of inspiration for the nation which had all the resources to solve it’s food problems but was lacking a political will and a sense of direction which was solved by Shastri.

That is one of the reasons he was called India’s farmer PM

Moral Lesson : Yatha Raja Thatha Praja - AS THE RULER SO THE RULED

Food Subsidies and Freebies
Over the years subsidies on food and agriculture have risen sky high
Food Subsidies and Freebies increases the consumption and food wastage

Black Money and Recording the Bank Note serial numbers

Tracing the Path of Currency
Mullaperiyar Dam Solutions