Indian Paradox: Bumper Harvests and Rising Hunger

WSJ writes about the shift in strategy in tackling hunger in India:

The world is producing more food than ever before as countries such as India, China and Brazil emerge as forces in global agriculture. But at the same time, the number of the world’s hungry is on the rise — including in India — after falling for decades. Despite its overflowing granaries, India has more hungry people than any other country, as many as 214 million according to United Nations estimates, or one-fifth of its population.

The paradox is propelling a shift in strategy among the world’s hunger fighters. International agencies that once encouraged countries to solve starvation crises by growing more food are now tackling the more fundamental problem of rural poverty as well. The old development mantra — produce more food, feed more people — is giving way to a new call: Create more jobs, provide income to buy food.

“Increasing production is great, but we have to think about the whole chain,” says M.S. Swaminathan, the 78-year-old scientist who helped engineer India’s agriculture boom and whose foundation set up Mr. Manangatti’s taxi. India has been able to conquer its famine of food, he says. Now it is suffering from a “famine of jobs and livelihoods.”

In a typical year, the World Food Program distributes food to about 90 million people, many of whom are threatened with starvation in disaster situations such as drought. Most of the remaining 700 million live on isolated, stingy land, and have neither the money to buy food nor the ability to grow it. They’re beyond the reach of international feeding programs and also fall through national safety nets.

It’s virtually impossible to simply hand out food surpluses to the hungry because of the cost and complexity of distribution. It would also turn recipients into permanent wards of the world. “I believe in Gandhi’s strategy: Don’t turn people into beggars,” says Mr. Swaminathan.

Looking for solutions, countries are turning their attention to permanent development projects such as road building that can foster economic activity for the rural poor, and connect them to markets for their produce.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.