Dr. M.S. Swaminathan writes: It’s unfortunate that industrialised nations are so inward looking in the area of agricultural trade, particularly since hardly 2 to 3% of their population depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Nairobi has paved the way for famines of the future. (Also read: Digest of articles on the recently concluded WTO talks)
M.S. Swaminathan: Nairobi has paved the way for famines of the future
The market has been left very volatile and the very heavy subsidies being given by industrialised countries under the green box provision will be continued and probably enlarged. Whatever may happen at the international arena our national policy should have as its bottom line the livelihood security of resource poor farmers and the food security of resource poor consumers. It is unfortunate that industrialised nations are so inward looking in the area of agricultural trade, particularly since hardly 2 to 3% of their population depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Nairobi has paved the way for famines of the future.
Renowned geneticist and administrator M S Swaminathan is popularly known as the ‘father of India’s green revolution’. Speaking with Srijana Mitra Das, Swaminathan discussed why he fears the WTO Nairobi meet could exacerbate global food insecurity, double standards over farming protection between developed and developing nations, an Indian Single Market in grains – and how India, already suffering ‘hidden’ famine, must have freedom to decide its own policies:
Why do you think WTO Nairobi can result in famines occurring across the world?
Well, famines occur, including the historic Bengal famine, when demand for food far exceeds supply.
Food production in a country like ours, with diminishing per capita availability of land and water, can match the needs of an increased population only if there are favourable public policies in areas like input-output and export-import as well as policies for a minimum support price, procurement and public distribution.
Already, the country is suffering from what i call a hidden famine, as a result of under-nutrition and malnutrition among large numbers of children and adults.
Therefore, we should have enough flexibility in deciding our public policies which can support both poor farmers and poor consumers.
Unfortunately, the Nairobi declaration does not take into account the larger implications of WTO decisions with reference to achieving the zero hunger challenge of Mr Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the UN.
There’s been steady pressure on India to slash food support – do developed countries follow the same market principle?
In fact, the Nairobi meet permits industrialised countries to continue to provide large subsidies under the Green Box and other provisions.
If, as a result, industrialised countries price their export commodity at a rather low price, this will seriously affect the economics of farming in developing countries.
What other impacts could Nairobi have on farming and food security in India?
The Nairobi meet cannot influence our food security – if our country continues to keep national food security and farmers’ economic viability as the bottom line of our trade, pricing procurement and distribution policies.
But the Nairobi output also does not make a difference between farmers who are in agriculture for their livelihood security from the small number of farmers in industrialised countries who practise farming for their business security.
PM Modi’s insisted on food protection in India – yet, the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference seems to have caused some despondency.
There is no despondency as far as i can see in the matter of fighting for our farmers’ rights and national food sovereignty – Nirmala Sitharaman has done an outstanding job.
However, there is no time to relax either since agriculture really is the main source of not only food but also jobs and incomes to 700 million people in our country.
As head of the National Commission on Farmers, what have you recommended?
Various steps needed now are given in detail in reports of the Commission which include suggestions on pricing and procurement policies – as well as the organisation of an Indian Single Market, breaking down all the barriers in the movement of grains and other commodities from one state to another.