Our Hunger Games

Hunger and malnutrition are man-made. They are hardwired in the design of the industrial, chemical model of agriculture. But just as hunger is created by design, healthy and nutritious food for all can also be designed, through food democracy.

We are repeatedly told that we will starve without chemical fertilisers. However, chemical fertilisers, which are essentially poison, undermine food security by destroying the fertility of soil by killing the biodiversity of soil organisms, friendly insects that control pests and pollinators like bees and butterflies necessary for plant reproduction and food production.

Industrial production has led to a severe ecological and social crisis. To ensure the supply of healthy food, we must move towards agro-ecological and sustainable systems of food production that work with nature and not against her. That is what movements that promote biodiversity conservation, like our NGO Navdanya, are designing on the ground.

Industrialisation of agriculture creates hunger and malnutrition, and yet further industrialisation of food systems are offered as solution to the crisis. In the Indian context, agriculture, food and nutrition are seen independent of each other, even though what food is grown and how it is grown determines its nutritional value. It also determines distribution patterns and entitlements. If we grow millets and pulses, we will have more nutrition per capita. If we grow food by using chemicals, we are growing monocultures — this means that we will have less nutrition per acre, per capita. If we grow food ecologically, with internal inputs, more food will stay with the farming household and there will be less malnutrition among rural children.

Our agriculture policy focuses on increasing yields of individual crops and not on the output of the food system and its nutritional value. The food security system — based on the public distribution system — does not address issues of nutrition and quality of food, and nutritional programmes are divorced from both agriculture and food security.

The agrarian crisis, the food crisis and the nutrition and health crisis are intimately connected. They need to be addressed together. The objective of agriculture policy cannot be based on promoting industrial processing of food. The chemicalisation of agriculture and food are recipes for “denutrification”. They cannot solve the problem of hunger and malnutrition. The solution to malnutrition begins with the soil.

Industrial agriculture, sold as the Green Revolution and the second Green Revolution to Third World countries, is chemical-intensive, capital-intensive and fossil fuel-intensive. It must, by its very structure, push farmers into debt and indebted farmers off the land. In poor countries, farmers trapped in debt for buying costly chemicals and non-renewable seeds, sell the food they grow to pay back debt. That is why hunger today is a rural phenomenon. Wherever chemicals and commercial seeds have spread, farmers are in debt. They lose entitlement to their own produce and hence get trapped in poverty and hunger.

Industrial chemical agriculture also creates hunger by displacing and destroying the biodiversity, which provides nutrition. The Green Revolution displaced pulses, an important source of proteins, as well as oilseeds, thus reducing nutrition per acre. Monocultures do not produce more food and nutrition. They take up more chemicals and fossil fuels, and hence are profitable for agrochemical companies and oil companies. They produce higher yields of individual commodities but a lower output of food and nutrition.

The rest of the article may be found on Common Dreams.

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