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Fear, Famine and Food: India’s tryst with abundance and scarcity

April 10, 2008

Go back to your history books.
Go back to your grandparents and their misty memories.
Huddle around your granny’s sari, like you used to do when you were small. She will have a story to tell.
Of famines and deaths. Food and Fear. Of people perished and lives wasted.

India today stands at an important juncture of history where foolery and crisis is breathing the same air and living the same life.

In shocking developments in the last few months, Australia has come under drought;Thailand and Vietnam has banned rice and wheat export and Raj Thackeray has developed a huge affection for Amitabh Bachchan. Almost to the level of being infatuated.
Australia as tacit wheat bowl of the world has failed to deliver this year. The result:International wheat prices have spiralled.
Demand has skyrocketed and supply is under a huge crunch. Add to that Thailand and Vietnam waking up one fine morning to screw the world twice all over. It banned export of international rice! In the midst of all this, the crude oil prices have skyrocketed and there is no relief visible in sight. [At the time of writing it is testing the resistance levels of $111/barrel]
In 1975, India had a whiff of scarcity tingling in the air. I was not born at that time. And if you think anyway like I do, I don’t think you will remember anything about it. At that time it was crude oil price which drove the food into frenzy.

Maharashtra went through a drought in those days.
Exactly 33 years later, the history is about to be repeated.
Crude oil prices are the villains once again. And of course, weather.
But while the rest of the world is concerned about this apparent food crunch, we in India are busy enjoying TV shows like Hogenakkal Crisis, MNS crisis, the latest soundbite from AB baby.
Well, we Indians after all will have a new thing tomorrow to worry about. Ministry has washed hand off the uncomfortable questions from rude journos about our food inventory. The reaction?
“You dont worry, boy. The situation is under control”
I doubt it.
And boy, I doubt it a bit too much.
Have you ever travelled in trains in the hinterlands of north India in the rainy season? 🙂 I bet you didnt!
You will understand then what I am talking about.
Godowns waiting to be filled. Trucks waiting outside and rains gracing the scenario like an unwelcomed guest.
Might have been a good backdrop for all those countless Bolly flicks.
But all what you will see, a fantastic definition of wastage.
But we love those small fights over who owns Bombay and who owns Mumbai. After all, we are Indians. And while you ask those uncomfortable questions, to our politicos about food crisis and global economics, take my advise, be ready to listen to their rantings.

With the world over, food prices escalating, India needs an active buffer to counter the system. And unfortunately the government is finding itself in a Catch-22. You know whats Catch-22?
Government wants to increase the food prices to boost production but, lo! there is inflation to check and aam aadmi to answer. SO what do you do?
You import from foreign countries?
You will be calling for a pre-matured election, for harming the interests of the home bred kisaan

So what are you gonna do Mr Manmohan? What are you gonna do?

At this juncture, government needs to make some tough choices. Visionary choices. And good decisions. You can comfort yourself with the fact that those dark days of Indian society are once again averted, if your government at the centre manages to keep the food supply adequate. Without bothering too much for criticism. Period
But if it doesn’t then skip what I told at the beginning. You wont need those horror stories. You will be living one.

If you liked it, you might love to read these posts:
Dubya, Economics & Food
Africa’s plea for grains: India on a sticky wicket

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