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Who will feed Uttar Pradesh?
By Devinder Sharma



State governments are competing with each other to grab fertile lands of farmers and transfer these to industry. But with increasing population and decreasing arable land, feeding the people will become a huge challenge for states like Uttar Pradesh in the years to come.

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Already marginalised and ignored by the policy makers, Indian farmers
resent land grab by government and industry

India is witnessing a thousand mutinies. Pitched battles are being fought across the country by poor farmers, who fear further marginalisation when their land is literally grabbed by the government and the industry. From Mangalore in Karnataka to Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, from Singur in West Bengal to Mansa in Punjab, the rural countryside is literally on a boil. Large chunks of prime agricultural land are being forcibly diverted for non-agricultural purposes.

While the continuing struggle against land acquisition for instance by farmers in Aligarh, which took a violent turn and became a political ploy, is being projected by media as an agitation by farmers for higher compensation, the reality is that a majority of the farmers do not want to dispense with their ancestral land. They are being forced to do so. The most critical, but until now ignored, aspect of this land grab is that it has serious implications for food security.

Let us take the case of Uttar Pradesh. The state has the largest population in the country, and is also the biggest producer of foodgrains. Western parts of Uttar Pradesh, comprising the fertile Indo-Gangetic plains, have been considered part of the green revolution belt. In addition to 4.10 crore tonnes of foodgrains, it produces 1.30 crore tonnes of sugarcane and 1.05 crore tonnes of potato.

Uttar Pradesh produces more foodgrains than Punjab but because of its huge population, it is hardly left with any surplus. What is however remarkable is that Uttar Pradesh has been at least feeding its own population.

The reality is that a majority of the farmers do not want to dispense with their ancestral land. They are being forced to do so.

This situation is bound to change soon if the government continues with its land conversion policies. The proposed eight Expressways and the townships planned along the route, along with land being gobbled by other industrial, real estate and investment projects are likely to eat away more than 23,000 villages. Although Mayawati government has dropped the townships along the Yamuna expressway, but the company that is investing in real estate claims that as per their pact with the State government, they have to be given land in an alternative location.

Former Union Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh has in a statement said that one-third of total cultivable land of Uttar Pradesh will be eventually acquired.

This means that out of the total area of 1.98 crore hectares under foodgrain crops in Uttar Pradesh, one-third or roughly 66 lakh hectares will be shifted from agriculture to non-agriculture activity. Much of the fertile and productive lands of Western Uttar Pradesh will therefore disappear, to be replaced by concrete jungles. In addition to wheat and rice, sugarcane and potato would be the other two major crops whose production will be negatively impacted.

As per rough estimates, 66 lakh hectares that would be taken out of farming would mean a production loss of 140 lakh tonnes of foodgrains. In other words, Uttar Pradesh will be faced with a terrible food crisis in the years to come, the seeds for which are being sown now. Add to this the anticipated shortfall in potato and sugarcane production, since the area under these two crops will also go down drastically, the road ahead for Uttar Pradesh is not only dark but laced with social unrest.

Already lagging behind most other states in socio-economic development, Uttar Pradesh will surely see surge in hunger, malnutrition and under-nourishment. We can only imagine the socio-political fallout of the misadventure that the government is attempting with such a massive takeover of fertile land.

What is not being realised is that Uttar Pradesh alone will send all the estimates of the proposed National Food Security Act go topsy-turvy. At present, as per the buffer norms, the government keeps between 200 lakh tonnes to 240 lakh tonnes for distribution across the country through the Public Distribution System (PDS). In the last few years however the average foodgrain stocks with the government have been in the range of 450 to 500 lakh tonnes.

Even with such huge grain reserves, Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has expressed his inability to provide 35 kg of grain per month to every eligible family. Imagine, what will happen when Uttar Pradesh alone will put an additional demand of 140 lakh tonnes. Who will then feed Uttar Pradesh?

Out of the total area of 1.98 crore hectares under foodgrain crops in Uttar Pradesh, one-third or roughly 66 lakh hectares will be shifted from agriculture to non-agriculture activity. Much of the fertile and productive lands of Western Uttar Pradesh will be replaced by concrete jungles.

Policy makers say that with rapid industrialisation the average incomes will go up as a result of which people will have the money to buy food from the open market and also make for nutritious choices. But the bigger question is where will the addition quantity of food come from? Already, Punjab and Haryana, comprising the food bowl, are on fast track mode to acquire farm lands. Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab are building up ‘land banks’ for the industry and Rajasthan has allowed the industry to buy land directly from farmers setting aside the ceiling limit.

Internationally, the food situation is worsening ever since the 2008 food crisis when 37 countries were faced with food riots. Even now, food prices globally are on an upswing. As Russia extends the wheat export ban till the next year's wheat harvest sending global prices on a hike, deadly food riots were witnessed last week in Mozambique killing at last seven people. According to news reports, anger is building up in Pakistan, Egypt and Serbia over rising prices.

Knowing that the world can witness a repeat of 2008 food crisis that resulted in food riots in 37 countries, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has called for a special meeting to discuss the implications.

Extended drought and resulting wildfires have caused a 20 per cent drop in wheat harvest in Russia sending the global wheat prices on a spiral. Wheat futures obviously would take advantage, and according to Financial Times wheat prices have gone up by 70 per cent since January. India may therefore find it difficult to purchase food from the global market if it thinks it can bank upon the international markets to bail it out. This is primarily the reason why several countries, mainly China and the countries of the oil rich Middle East are buying lands in Africa, Lain America and Asia to grow food to be shipped back home for domestic consumers.

Gone are the days when a worried Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, while addressing the nation on Aug 15, 1955 from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi said: "It is very humiliating for any country to import food. So everything else can wait, but not agriculture." That was in 1955. Fifty-five years later, in 2010, UPA-II thinks that food security needs of the nation can be addressed by importing food. Land must be acquired for the industry, because the industrial sector alone will be the vehicle for higher growth. There can be nothing more dangerous than this flawed approach.

 
Disclaimer:
The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.
 

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

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 Other Articles by Devinder Sharma in
Human Development  > Food > Production and Distribution

Blindfolded, they grope in dark!
Sunday, November 06, 2011

With food inflation rising continuously and steeply for years, the low-income groups are badly affected. However, there seems to be a complete lack of motivation on the part of government to bring down the prices of food items as it continues to blame inflation on non-existent reasons.

Teary tale of onion trade
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The recent ban on onion exports resulted in an aggressive lobbying to revoke the ban as demanded by the wholesale traders. The way Chief Ministers and cabinet ministers joined hands against the export ban, it is obvious that onions have become important political tool.
 
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Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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