G Chandrashekhar

Global food crisis looms ahead

 G. Chandrashekar | Updated on March 12, 2018

India’s food security is slowly weakening as seen by the decline in per capita availability of foodgrains, including cereals.

We tinker with trade and tariff measures, but ignore structural issues impeding food output.

That food production globally is facing daunting challenges from a host of factors including climate change is well known.

And to meet the imminent rise in food demand as well as to combat hunger and malnutrition, improvement in investments, policies and productivity is critical, experts have asserted.

Global demand for major grains such as maize (corn), rice and wheat is projected to increase by nearly 48 per cent from 2000 to 2025 and by 70 per cent between 2000 and 2050, according to Dr Mark. Rosegrant of Washington DC-headquartered International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Future scenarios

Using economic modelling based on alternative future scenarios for agricultural supply and demand that take into account the potential harmful impact of climate change, IFPRI projects crop yields, food prices, and child malnutrition through 2050 and beyond.

Even without climate change, prices of rice, maize, and wheat are projected to increase by 25 per cent, 48 per cent, and 75 per cent respectively by 2050, in a business-as-usual scenario. Climate change will further slow productivity growth, increasing staple food prices and reducing progress on food security and childhood malnutrition, the researcher has warned.

According to IFPRI's sophisticated computer model developed by Dr. Rosegrant, with $7 billion of additional annual investments in research to improve crop and livestock productivity, nearly 25 million less-children in developing countries would be malnourished in 2050 compared to a business-as-usual scenario.

If projected investments in agricultural research are increased along with greater spending on irrigation, rural roads, safe drinking water, and girls' education, for a total additional increase of $22 billion per year, the number of malnourished children in the developing world—currently projected to be 103 million in 2050—would drop substantially to 45 million.

It is of course unclear if policymakers around the world today are even remotely concerned about the emerging situation. In India, there is little evidence that anyone is thinking beyond five years.

Eroding food security

Food demand in India is expanding rapidly because of robust economic growth, higher disposable incomes and relatively low current per capita consumption. In the last five years, we have seen our food security slowing erode as evidenced by the decline in per capita availability of a number of food commodities including cereals. Dependence on imports is rising.

Humungous public stocks of rice and wheat in government warehouses do not make for food security; worse, they make the government smug. It is a cruel joke on the country's poor that we have the dubious distinction of having achieved food self-sufficiency without meeting the food needs of people.

Going forward, unless domestic output growth broadly matches food demand growth, the dependence on world market – with its attendant volatility and vicissitudes – will worsen.

Admittedly, policymakers have limited options in controlling external threats to food market prices such as high energy prices, weather aberrations around the world and flow of speculative capital in agricultural derivatives.

We have all it takes to be an agricultural superpower. But, we have also to feed a population of 120 crore people ; and at least a fifth of it has no access to two square meals a day. If unaddressed, the situation is fraught with serious risks for the nation's social fabric.

We need growth-oriented policies and accountability for outcomes. What we do is tinker with trade and tariff measures, but structural issues that stymie growth remain ignored. There is no evidence that agriculture is government's priority although decades ago the country's first Prime Minister famously said: ‘Everything can wait, but not agriculture'.

‘Who will feed China?' was a question asked some 20 years ago. The question everyone should now be asking is: Who will feed India, and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, populous Asian economies with rising food demand?

Published on June 07, 2011

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