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   Thursday, November 23, 2017
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Food diversity can fight hunger
By Pandurang Hegde



Living democracies where farmers make their own decision on what to grow and eat leads to eradication of hunger. It enhances the dignity and confidence of local communities, and teaches them not to become dependent on the government subsidies.

The failure of Parliament to pass the Food Security Bill in the recently concluded session is being projected as the apathy of opposition parties to deliver food to the needy.

The debate was on providing cheap staple crop of rice and wheat to the needy. The highest edifice of democracy was busy exploiting country's rising hunger and malnutrition to meet its political ends.

The introduction of Public Distribution System (PDS) during seventies paved way for affirmative action to feed millions of poor people across the county. In order to implement this programme government launched the procurement of food grains through Food Corporation of India. In 2011-12 the government has procured 54 million tons of food grains to run the PDS. The system functions through procurement of only two crops, wheat and rice, from the intensively cropped irrigated regions in North India.

The procurement of grain under PDS has had adverse impact on cropping pattern. Instead of diversified cropping pattern the farmers were enticed to cultivate only rice and wheat.

But PDS has become a threat to crop diversity

Unfortunately, the implementation of this policy over last four decades has led to destruction of the crop diversity in the country. Devinder Sharma, the renowned food policy analyst, says "the procurement of grain under PDS has had adverse impact on cropping pattern. Instead of diversified cropping pattern the farmers were enticed to cultivate only rice and wheat. In drier regions of deccan plateau farmers cultivated millets, in hill regions of Himalayas they had maize and diverse staple crops according to climatic zones."

Obviously, the introduction of PDS changed the way people eat, undermining the local food systems that consisted of nutritious crops like millets and sorghum. In fact in the process of feeding the hungry, it took away the right of communities of what to grow and eat. The change in the diet pattern is shocking as the area under millets declined by 50 per cent and the production plummeted to 52 per cent. The biodiverse farming systems known as Saat Dhan, seven crops in Rajasthan, or Navdanya, nine crops in Eastern Part of India, were the basis for growing nutritious crops, pulses and oilseeds on a single farm. This crop diversity was the basis for nutrition, fodder and soil security.

The overemphasis on growing rice and wheat with high chemical inputs has not only destroyed the crop diversity, it has also destroyed the diverse varieties of rice and wheat that were grown in the country. Indian sub continent is the centre of origin of rice and there were about 30 thousand rice varieties grown in different ecological zones catering to the diverse soils and climate. With the introduction of high yielding and hybrid varieties we are left with only few hundred rice varieties, and they too are on the verge of extinction.

The revival of local food system and diverse food crops is not a dream. It has already been realized in the dry arid regions of Pasthapur in Medak district in Andhra Pradesh.

Is it possible to bring back the diversity of crops? Can we reframe the PDS to meet the objective of enhancing biodiversity?

The crumbling centralized system of procurement is dependent on growing monoculture of crops of wheat and rice at the cost of other diverse crops. With heavy fertilizer and chemical inputs, this system is not sustainable in the long run. The conventional industrial mode of producing food will lead to more complications as the climate change and petroleum crisis looms large on the horizon. The accelerated agricultural crisis and increasing farmer suicides are indicators of the failed model.

The solution lies in decentralizing the food production and procurement under the PDS. Instead of growing food in Punjab and Haryana that has to travel at least 2000 kilometers to reach the consumer at the additional cost of Rs 30 per kg for transportation, the local community should be encouraged to grow diverse crops, millets, oil seeds and pulses. These food crops grown around the panchayats should become the basis of PDS there, rather than importing from far off places.

The revival of local food system and diverse food crops is not a dream. It has already been realized in the dry arid regions of Pasthapur in Medak district in Andhra Pradesh. Deccan Development Society, a mass community organization has helped 5000 women, mainly form Dalit communities to evolve a decentralized PDS system based on millets and cultivating 25 different crops in two acre plots. They are not only enhancing the biodiversity of crops and livestock, but have regenerated the barren land and regained their food culture.

After visiting this community, Frances Moore Lappe, the author of Diet for Small Planet said, "I learned how DDS women enhance biodiversity by saving and sharing seeds; how they create common plots for medicinal plants and learn and teach the healing arts. They are farmers growing organic, diverse food crops and creating lives of courage, dignity, inclusion, and ongoing creativity." Further she added, "Hunger is not caused by scarcity of food but by a scarcity of democracy."

It is the living democracies like the one in Pastapur where farmers make their own decision on what to grow and eat leads to eradication of hunger. It enhances the dignity and confidence of local communities, and teaches them not to become dependent on the government subsidies.

Will our Parliament allow such living democracies to flower and function that can lead to practicing of real democracy and conserving biodiversity?

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

Pandurang Hegde  |  appiko@gmail.com

Pandurang Hegde is a farmer, environmentalist and writer based in Sirsi town in Karnataka. He is well known for launching the Appiko movement which played a key role in protecting many forests from the axe in the Western Ghats region.

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