Food For All

Report on the Seminar

Shri Chaturanan Mishra
Union Minister for Agriculture

Shri Chaturanan Mishra presented his address in Hindi. The following is an abbreviated translation of his address:

I am thankful to the Observer Research Foundation, especially to Shri R. K. Mishra, and the Centre for Policy Studies for organizing this seminar on a subject that crucially concerns agriculture in India. I must also congratulate the authors of the book, “Annam Bahu Kurvita”, that Dr. Bajaj just mentioned. They have broughttogether almost all that is said in our civilizational literature on the question of food and its distribution.

Coming to the theme of the seminar, let me first point out that food and foodgrains are not the same thing. Food is a much larger term; it includes milk, fruit, flesh and fish. I want to make it clear that being the minister for agriculture, I shall certainly make the necessary effort to enhance the production of foodgrains, but it is also important to pay attention to other elements of food. Man cannot live on foodgrains alone. Proper nutrition requires the consumption of much else besides foodgrains.

It shall be inappropriate for me to quote from the Shastras in the presence of Shri Swamiji; though we have been traditionally a family of Sanskrit scholars. Let me therefore just give one example: In the Mahabharata when Bhishma Pitamaha is lying on a bed of arrows awaiting his end, Yudhishthira asks him about the essence of dharma, and Bhishma Pitamaha says that giving of food is indeed the essence of dharma. That is the position of our Shastras; but, I believe that no Indian should need to receive food from others; all of our people should be able to produce for themselves and eat for themselves.

Another point I wish to make is that there is no connection at all between per capita availability of foodgrains and people dying of hunger. I want to make this absolutely clear. Sometime ago, there were reports about people dying of hunger in Kalahandi region of Orissa; at that time the Government of India held a stock of 9 million tons of foodgrains. So the availability does not really matter. If people die of starvation in any region it is only because of poor management. If there is starvation in any part of India and we get the report in time, we shall certainly make food available there, even if we have to import food from abroad.

The issue of “Food for All” is being discussed all over the world. Recently, the United Nations held a conference on the subject in Rome; I was one of the delegates there. But the fact is that today science and technology have advanced so much that we can banish hunger from this planet. The USA alone can grow enough food to feed most of the world; but they do not grow, they pay the farmers to keep their fields uncultivated. Because, they are afraid that if they grow more food, prices in the world-markets shall crash. Whom should we blame for this situation?

But let us talk about our own country. I am certainly against imports of foodgrains. But we have to occasionally import to keep enough foodgrains in government stocks in order to discourage profiteering. We have grown a record harvest of 198 million tons of foodgrains this year. There is no reason why we should need to import from anywhere, or why anyone should remain hungry. But if the traders hoard stocks of foodgrains and let people die of hunger, then who is to blame? This is not the fault of the government or the agriculturists, it is just the system that we have adopted that is to blame for the starvation of our people.

It is also important to take note of the advances in science and technology. Our land, that has been cultivated for centuries, has got exhausted. After all the land also gets hungry; and it is important to look into what the land needs. If we could begin a large-scale movement to test our soils everywhere, and if through the spread of modern science and technology we could determine the exact needs of fertilizer, water and other inputs for different fields and different crops, then we could grow just any amount of foodgrains. We have so far adopted green-revolution technologies on only about 30 percent of our cultivated lands; if we could spread the same technologies to the other 70 percent then we might feed twice the population of India. And it shall not take very long to do; it can be done in 10 to 15 years. Similarly, if we could use advanced technologies to improve the stock of our cattle, we may produce abundant milk. All this is not happening, because our government does not have enough capital; and the educated amongst us do not want to reach up to the poor growers of foodgrains and producers of milk.

The small and marginal cultivators of India are today ready to adopt modern technologies. But purchase of improved seeds, chemical fertilizers, and other inputs requires capital, for which the cultivator must get credit. Ifwe could arrange for the necessary credit, and if we could provide water, then those small cultivators of India can grow enough not only to feed India but also much of the rest of the world. We have been blessed with fertile lands and excellent climate. We have great potential to produce foodgrains, fruit and vegetable for the world. We can be the leaders of the world in these areas. But, the government does not have the capital to provide the necessary credit and irrigation. So far we have been able to provide irrigation on only about 30 percent of our lands. The private sector in India has no interest in these matters, they only want to go into areas where they can make quick profits without much effort or investment. The multinationals are interested in selling cold-drinks and potato-chips. None of them are keen to invest in agriculture. And, if we ask them to invest, they demand subsidies. Whom all can we subsidise? Landless workers need subsidy, marginal cultivators need subsidy, agriculture needs subsidy; and they want us to subsidise capitalism also!

Let me end with the assertion that we are capable of producing enough food for ourselves. We have fertile soils; we have excellent climate; we have great scientists and technologists and the institutions for scientific and technological development; we have competent and dedicated cultivators; we can lead the world in agricultural production. If there is anything lacking, it is the capital for fully developing the resources we have.
I am happy that leaders of all parties have come together to discuss this problem. It is not a problem that concerns any particular political party; it is a national problem. And I am convinced that if we work together we shall be able to produce enough not only for ourselves, but also for the rest of the world.

Thanking Shri Chaturanan Mishra for his inaugural address, Shri R. K. Mishra assured him that the issues raised in the address would be focused upon during the deliberations of the seminar. Shri R. K. Mishra especially referred to the issue of subsidies raised in the inaugural address, and suggested that if we could decide that the state shall subsidise only foodgrains for the hungry and nothing else, then the problem would become simpler. After all, most subsidies are intended to ultimately help feed the hungry. Why not provide for feeding of the hungry directly, instead of subsidising fertiliser, water, electricity and hundreds of other things?