Can India Achieve Food Security?


Photo credit: antkriz via Flickr/Creative Commons

The World Summit on Food Security convenes next week in Rome, and the buzz leading up to it has focused on what it will take to produce enough food to feed the world. It's an issue that sounds simple enough on the surface -- humans have been growing food and feeding themselves for millenia -- but each locale around the globe presents a unique challenge.

Factors like the climate, government, economy, culture, and food traditions all play a role, in differing levels, in each foodshed around the globe. When it comes to food security, though, a real hotspot in the 21st century is India, where Reuters continues it's extended special report. Can it achieve food security?
Photo credit: mckaysavage via Flickr/Creative Commons

Food security in India: High prices vs. shortages


The farm industry in India hasn't changed as quickly as most other industries over the past 20 years; as a result, agriculture's share of India's economy continues to shrink, down to 17.5 percent from almost 30 percent in the 1990s. That's leading to a dangerous either-or scenario: Without enough food to feed the exploding population, it's become a dance between high prices and shortages, leaving many Indians without enough to eat.

Why the shrinking industry? Not a lot has changed since the Green Revolution of the 1960s, making it increasingly difficult for farmers to turn a profit. As a result, more and more are leaving farming; a survey by a government body called the National Sample Survey Organization found that 40 percent of Indian farmers would quit farming, if they could. That's a big number for a big country where two out of three of the one billion-plus live in villages.

Time for a second Green Revolution in India?

So, farming is flagging, other industries are rapidly passing it by, and, without upgrades -- technological and methodological -- it isn't attracting a new generation of farmers to the land. Some feel that the solution is similar, in theory, at least, to the one employed a half-century ago. It's time for a second Green Revolution.

"The increase in yields in the past decades have been insignificant. India sorely needs another Green Revolution," says Kushagra Nayan Bajaj, joint managing director of Bajaj Hinduthan, India's top sugar producer, which is importing raw sugar after a drought ravaged the domestic cane crop. But it will require a whole new set of tools, this time around.

Environmental damage wrought by the first revolution -- degraded soil from pesticides and fertilizers, mismanaged groundwater -- make it a tougher challenge this time around. In Punjab state, the center and poster child for the first go 'round, groundwater reserves have declined rapidly, and Sardara Singh Johl, an economist and former chairman of India's Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, said there would be very little water available for farming in the state. "This could severely compromise the food security of India. Government should realise the gravity of the situation and allocate funds for research to conserve groundwater," he said.

How can India achieve food security?

The quick answers -- allowing genetically modified crops, greater investment in irrigation, better economics in farming and greater government attention to agriculture -- all offer short term relief, but, unless more sustainable food systems are introduced, none will succeed in the long term.

There's no doubt that something like a second Green Revolution has great potential to transform India's food production capacity and bring it up to levels that will sustain the population as it continues to grow; however, unless sustainable methods are employed -- organic agriculture, for example, that feeds the soil and retains more water as crops grow -- we'll be talking about another Green Revolution on the horizon in another 50 years.

More about food security
The Copenhagen Conference on Food Security
Hillary Clinton Announces Obama's New Global Food Security Initiative (VIDEO)
Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?

Tags: Agriculture | Genetically Modified Food | India | Water Conservation

Best of TreeHugger 2014

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK