How India feeds its poor?

Amal Chatterjee
8 min readJan 3, 2019

Source : Google photo of Indian children feeding program

Synopsis : Hunger has no national boundaries. It is found in every country but the number of hungry people varies from country to country and depends upon the national resources to fight hunger. There is no doubt that hunger is a global phenomenon that needs answers and concrete ways to fight it.

Source : U tube video of Karolina Goswami talking about how India feeds itself.

This video of Karolina Goswami is an eye opener that shows hunger in most developed countries like Great Britain and the United States although their governments may not like the world to know that it exists in their countries. It is quite fashionable for the international news media to focus their attention on countries like India where many of the poor people live but they are not aware of the government’s effort in fighting hunger in a big way and making great progress in reducing the number of people who often go without food .

I was very impressed by the Director General of the FAO who initiated the World Food Program of the UN that feeds millions of very poor people in war zones and where the rains have failed causing famine like in Ethiopia or other parts . But the UN effort to feed the hungry is a stop-gap measure that helps the hungry but does not provide a long-term solution to the problem of hunger in the world.

That can only come from the national governments because they are mandated to take care of their poor people by making irrigation available to farmers who can then grow the food they need. The massive investment needed to upgrade the canals to bring water to the dry areas requires a long-term view of the agricultural development that includes new high yielding varieties of crops, making credit available to farmers for the farm inputs, better farm to market road network to bring the produce to the market to get a better price, making electricity available to rural areas and farm mechanization .

In the so-called developed countries we see far more investment in their military hardware and the manufacture of such hardware for the export market and not enough to build schools in poor areas, school feeding program for the poor children or building shelter for the homeless so you will see poverty in areas that have been left behind by their national governments.

The movie called “ The education of little tree” is a movie to watch that shows abject poverty in the mountainous regions of the United States where very poor people survive by making bootleg whiskey and constantly run the risk of getting caught and suffer the consequences.

Karolina gives some statistics on the poverty and hunger in UK that will surprise you . I have seen how poor the Roma people in Italy are and how they try to survive there without any aid from the government there. The Romas also called gypsies are spread out all over Europe and suffer from the lack of job opportunities for them , little or no social welfare programs ,care and health benefits that other Italians enjoy, little or no education and most of all a Europe wide discrimination against them based on their race, skin color and subhuman status.

I see hunger here in the Philippines where people make desperate attempts to make a living and earn a little to survive but are often lured into drugs that has its consequences. The vast slums of Asia somehow shelter them but many go hungry and resort to desperate measures like petty thievery that later develops into other serious crimes.

I am not writing about the man-made calamities like war that makes people refugees and destitute. I am writing about peaceful countries where people are hungry because they are so poor that they do not have enough money to buy the food they need to survive.

The Green revolution in Asia was started by a scientist called Dr. S.K. De Datta in the 1960s who was working at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippnes. He is probably the most underappreciated scientist in the history of agricultural science. I wrote a blog called The unsung hero of the green revolution that you should read to know his contribution to fight hunger through the cultivation of high yielding rice varieties that made the Philippines self-sufficient in rice during the 1960s.

There were other such agronomists who made significant contribution toward reducing hunger and poverty in many countries where poverty and hunger go hand in hand. But ultimately it is the role of the national governments to take care of their poor.

So today I will write about how India has become an exporter of food grains through massive investment in research, development and extension of modern agricultural technologies to increase its food production to feed the whole nation. Yet there was a time when India had to import food from other countries.

I remember how Richard Nixon at one time put pressure on India to repay its debt to the United States and threatened to cut off the supply of poor quality wheat and sorghum to India under PL 480 when Indira Gandhi was visiting Washington. She calmly wrote a check of several billion dollars and wiped off the entire debt in one swift motion that surprised Nixon who privately hated her guts and called her names.

India also refused to accept the poor quality grains and started to pay serious attention to develop the agricultural sector to make the country self-sufficient. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri called the nation to go on a diet of less rice and wheat and more on corn so people responded. One can never underestimate the sacrifice people are willing to make for their country in the time of need. The massive investment in agriculture, rural electrification, loans to farmers, irrigation and mechanization were to make India a net exporter of food in the decades to come.

The Government now has stockpiled food in every district of the country where large warehouses stock the food like wheat, barley, rice, sorghum, corn. sugar, dal and various other things that are then sold to the public at a subsidized cost. Every family in India gets a ration card and gets a supply of subsidized food the quantity of which depends on the number of people per family.

I used to go to the ration shop near our house every month to buy rice, wheat and dal etc. that was a big help to the family in cost savings. This system still prevails although people of the middle class now tend to have smaller families than before and have better income . So it really helps the poor who are assured of food through the nationwide food distribution centers that are located in every community.

The government buys the grains from the farmers at an assured rate and supplies it to the warehouses all over the country in every district that are joined by rail but India is a rapidly growing economy that has developed the rail and road infrastructure that makes it easy to move large quantities of grains.

But those countries that have not been able to invest in their agriculture still face chronic shortage of food and have to import it from other food exporting nations at a great cost. They also have not been able to develop the infrastructure necessary to help the agriculture sector the way India has so crops may fail if the rains are not enough. Ethiopian famine scenes are seared into the memory of everyone although it was mostly manmade due to their incessant wars with Eritrea.

Karolina Goswami in this video shows how a private institution in India is feeding hundreds of thousands of school children daily and expanding their program to include more children in more states. Thanks to the massive feeding program of school children free of cost , the kids attend schools and do not have to go hungry.

Unknown to the world ,the Indian government also has a school feeding program on a much larger scale in many states where millions of children are thus helped. The Hindus and Sikhs feed thousands of people daily through their free food program in their temples and gurdwaras. There is a gurdwara here near our place where anyone can get a free meal everyday because it is a part of their religion to feed people.

The problem of hunger worldwide is not going away anytime soon so each country has to solve its own problem of hunger through the improvement of agriculture and animal husbandry. Giving free food to children helps them attend schools but it does not resolve the problem in a meaningful way so it is up to the governments to create jobs for them when they grow up and join the work force.

Rich countries that ignore their poor people should invest in their poor people who can be an asset. Cuba is not rich but takes good care of its people through free education and healthcare for everybody so I salute such countries that care for their hungry and poor. It also has enacted the most successful land reform program there.

Of all miseries of the humanity nothing is worse than hunger so learn from the Africans. In their villages they always share food with their neighbors who may not have enough so I admire their spirit and hope that we all learn something about the human spirit from them. Just watch the video I presented in the blog called The spirit of Africa where they joyously build a beautiful home for their neighbor in Burkina Faso.

Those of you who waste food everyday do not realize that collectively people throw away food that can feed millions worldwide so I do not appreciate anyone wasting food. I have seen a river of egg yolks draining into gutter when college students in California were throwing eggs at someone for fun. Restaurants and fast food chains throw away excess food at the end of a day into the garbage bins but would not share it with the hungry.

When mankind loses its humanity, it is left with a shell devoid of any feeling for the fellow beings. Are we turning into machines ?

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