Against the backdrop of rising concerns over farm distress in India, and a farmers’ protest movement demanding policy succor, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) launched the latest 2018 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) at a policy dialogue held in New Delhi, India, Friday.
The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog Vice-chairperson and the chief guest, Rajiv Kumar, echoing the theme of this year’s report, admitted that the global trade can be a double-edged sword, which has its benefits as well as disadvantages. “How do we address this challenge of meeting local needs and requirements with increasing global trade?” Kumar said addressing farm distress with the right policies is now a priority for the Indian government. “We in the NITI Aayog and the government have decided it is finally time we must focus only and only on farmers and farmers’ distress…that’s a real issue which is beginning to haunt us... and (the issue is) so amazingly complex.”
According to the GFPR, the rise of anti-globalization politics and policies around the world poses threats to progress in efforts to end global hunger and malnutrition. The Delhi report launch and policy dialogue were held in partnership with premier Indian research institutions, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), and ICAR- National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (ICAR-NIAP).
IFPRI director-general, Shenggen Fan, in his keynote address, highlighted some of the themes included in this year’s report: the impact of global integration and disintegration on trade, migration, investment and knowledge-sharing. “We don’t want a trade war,” Fan said, adding, “trade war will hurt all, particularly poor and hungry people.” Fan pointed out that nearly 850 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition globally, while 35 million are at risk of famine. He suggested enactment of strong policies to leverage benefits of globalization while minimizing risks to ensure progress towards meeting Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger and poverty by 2030.
Providing an overview of the report’s regional analysis from South Asia, IFPRI-SAO director, PK Joshi, said, “There’s a paradox in South Asia—we are the fastest growing economy and region in the world, but are facing the challenge of triple malnourishment: food insecurity, undernourishment and obesity.” Joshi also cautioned against the rising threat of climate change and its impact on food systems.
Another panelist, Mahendra Dev, director and vice chancellor, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), and IFPRI Board vice chairman, emphasized on the importance of food systems approach in analysis of hunger and malnutrition, and pointed out that global trade has more benefits than risks. “India will benefit more from globalization than protectionist policies. India can and should take the high road against protectionism as it needs the global trade and financial capital for high growth.”
Between 1985 and 2007, trade grew twice as fast as GDP, however, since 2012 GDP and trade have grown at the same rate, said Dev, arguing that recent protectionist measures announced by the United States may lead to a further reduction in trade growth.
Drawing from her own experience as an agriculture science student, panelist Purvi Mehta-Bhatt, senior adviser and head of agriculture for South Asia, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), India, said the current educational system focuses on agricultural productivity and yields but not on farmers’ incomes, leading to an imbalance in the way success is measured in the farm sector. “Green revolution’s focus was more on the farm, the new ambition is to focus on farmers, and doubling their incomes,” said Mehta-Bhatt.
Real-time data, as pointed out in the report, can help in real-time governance, and measurement of the income gap for farmers, which is critical to improving their incomes, she added.
But, policy-making, disconnected from politics, has little meaning. “When you talk of policy and forget politics, it will have very little implication to society,” said session chairperson, Trilochan Mohapatra, secretary, Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE) and director general, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). He expressed concerns regarding some of the structural deficiencies, which impact food security in the country. “Is the subsidized foodgrain (through public distribution system) not reaching the end user? Why does hunger exist? Why are we not able to reach the unreached?”
In his concluding remarks, Kumar from NITI Aayog said, “Thirty-eight per cent of our children are undernourished... and 60 million tonnes of foodgrains are being stocked somewhere while farmers are throwing away their produce.” We need to introspect deeply, and create non-farm employment, following China’s path out of agrarian crisis. “For the next few years, we need to concentrate on curbing hunger and malnutrition, and make sure that our farmers come up to the same level as their urban counterparts,” he added.