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'We can't play politics with hunger'

May 06, 2008

For the first time since the Green Revolution, India confronts a food crisis. From being a self sufficient country that exported food grain, India is now being forced to import wheat.

The country's food stock, which was 50 million tonnes till recently, has been reduced by one third.

Farmers commit suicide; the prices of food items are skyrocketing.

Agricultural growth is just about two per cent. The gap between rural and urban India is widening....

In the Union Budget 2008-09, Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram announced steps to help the beleaguered farmers. He waived farm loans of Rs 60,000 crore (Rs 600 billion).

But will the move solve Indian farmers' woes? How can India tackle food scarcity? Is there a permanent solution to these problems?

Dr Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, one of the parents of India's Green Revolution discussed the global food crisis with Shobha Warrier in Chennai.

After the Green Revolution till about 1990, India's rate of food production was more than the rate of population growth. However, the scenario changed post liberalisation. Is there any connection between India's reforms and the decline in food production?

I don't see any direct connection between agriculture stagnation and liberalisation. Liberalisation helped unleash the creativity of our entrepreneurs mainly in the urban areas and those who are educated.

But for the other part of India, which comprises 70 per cent of India, there has been no such liberalisation, no infrastructure development, and no investment.

In fact, there was a deceleration of investment if you look at rural roads, irrigation, and infrastructure. Both public and private investment have gone down on the rural side.

The gap between the rural and urban India or the shining India and suffering India has widened. There are two Indias now.

The contribution of agriculture to the country's GDP started going down.

Photograph: Sreeram Selvaraj

Also see: A crorepati who lives in a hut!

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