The World Food Summit is being organized in June this year in Rome, five years after the last Food Summit
Five years after the last Food Summit, hunger and malnutrition has grown enormously, particularly in the third World countries. The public distribution system of these countries, which embodied their food security, is being slowly dismantled. In spite of being primarily agrarian economies, food prices in these countries have been rising steadily along with similar decrease in farm prices. Agricultural livelihoods are being destroyed, creating deeper poverty and deeper hunger and especially effecting food entitlements of women & children. The impact of policies such as dumping, corporatization of agriculture, are also becoming sources of conflict in the South Asian region.
Women have been at the center of providing food security and are the keepers of biodiversity and cultural diversity. It is imperative that women from the South Asian Region to understand and assess the impact of international & national changes on their national and their household food security; and decide what should be the framework of the new policies. The women of these countries need to devise strategies for letting their voices heard and registering their concerns at the regional and the global level. They need to inform policy makers at these debates.
To discuss these critical issues at an opportune time, please make it convenient to attend the Policy Dialogue on Keeping Food Security in Women's hands on 12th May at Hotel Himalaya, Katmandu, Nepal, which coincides with the Regional Food Summit being held on 11-12 May at Katmandu. The Dialogue is being jointly organized by Shtrii Shakti, Nepal and Diverse Women for Diversity, India. Following the Dialogue, there is going to be a big rally on 13th May to mobilize and inform people about the new policies that may further jeopardize their food security.
The outcome of the Dialogue will inform the Regional Food Summit, as well as provide inputs both at the World Food Summit and the WTO Review of the Agreement on Agriculture.
Report of the meeting
14 May 2002
In a build- up to the World Food Summit scheduled to be held next month in Rome and the unveiling of the new National Food Policy, Diverse Women for Diversity in Collaboration with National alliance of Women and Children for Food and Water Rights organized a Policy Dialogue on Keeping Food Security in the Hands of Women at New Delhi.
The panel comprised of Dr. Vandana Shiva, Founder Director of Navdanya; Dr. Mohini Giri, Former chairman of the National Commission for Women; Dr. Amitava Mukherjee, former executive director of ActionAid India; Dr. Sarla Gopalan, formerly secretary of department of women and child development, Dr. Amrita Rangaswami of Centre for the Study of Administration and Relief; Dr. Mira Shiva, Public Health Network and Sh. Vivek of human Rights Law Network.
The discussions started with Dr. Amitava Mukherjee questioning the existing definition of food security. According to him, food security means having enough food having nutritional value in the system, economic and physical access to food and water that is culturally acceptable. Though over 95% of Indians get two square meals a day, but the fact is that they are terribly undernourished. Over 70% of children under the age of 3 years are anemic. So to suggest that India is so foods secure that it can afford to export cereals is an exaggeration. Further, dismantling of the Public Distribution Network by the government is due to the inefficiency of the government and not because the system itself is inefficient. Dr. Sarla Gopalan, who has worked with programmes aimed at reducing malnutrition amongst women and children through programmes such as ICDS was of the view that there is the crisis of Malnutrition among women because, one there was inadequate food for the family, so it the women who bear the brunt and secondly, there was a lack of awareness about traditional foods due to introduction of new foods, not as nutritive or wholesome as the traditional foods.
Mr. Vivek from Human Rights Law Network gave an outline of the Public Interest litigation they are fighting against the government for alleging that there are no starvation deaths in Orissa and giving the wrong figures to win their case. Dr. Mira Shiva from Public Health Network stressed that the health factor needs to be addressed while working out strategy for keeping food security in the hands of women because as Dr. Mukherjee had pointed out earlier, the point of discord was not about not getting two square meals a day, but avoiding severe malnutrition, which is more pronounced in the case of women. And also traditional knowledge should be advertised for health aspects of food security. As rightly pointed out by Dr. Shanti Ghosh, also present, that there is maximum prevalence of malnutrition amongst children from 4 month onwards till 1- ½ years not because of lack of food but because of lack of awareness and knowledge among mothers.
At this point Ms. Renuka Chowdhary, a member of parliament, providing a lighter vein to the heavier issues being discussed, said that food security of families has now been threatened to such an extent that providing food security is now going to be a major agenda of all political parties, even if at the end, its only to secure votes. She even proposed a National Aneamia Day, when everybody can go to an inexpensive blood test to check heamoglobin levels and determine the extent of malnutrition in the country and then steps to curb it could be undertaken at the next stage.
The Union Minister for consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Mr. Shanta Kumar, rising to the occasion, declared that government is doing all it can to provide food security at affordable prices to the masses by ensuring swift delivery of ration cards, availability of rations at the fair- price shops and surprise checks by Food Inspectors at them to curb corruption.
At this juncture, Dr. Vandana shiva interrupted him to question his statement that the present Public Distribution was heavy and cumbersome. According to her, what was needed was its complete restructuring, rather than its complete dismantling. This could be done in two ways- either pass it on to the private industry, as has been proposed by the government or there can be decentralization of the system. Decentralization would be better because giving it to the private is only going to increase food insecurity because all the private industry is going to care about is its profits. And the decentralization should be community based. She said that her organization has set up pilot projects in 4-5 districts of Uttaranchal, known as "Mahila Anna Swaraj" Units, going to be completely handled by women. When she has demonstrated the success of these units, completely self- reliant, then she will request the governement to adopt these models in every state.
Mr. Shanta Kumar said the present Public Distribution system is about 35 years old, it has many unwanted, totally irreverent regulations that need to be changed. The government is going to ensure that the new food grain policy does not interfere unnecessarily in the normal trade process. Last year, about 85 lakhs farmers were covered by the crop insurance scheme. They hope to increase it to the whole breed of 10 crore farmers in India by such schemes as direct income support to farmers.
Dr. Amrita Rangaswami questioned Mr. Shanta Kumar's reference of corruption in the present PDS system. According to her, it has been accepted that corruptrion is rampant in every walk of life in India, so why only PDS is being singled out as inefficient and corrupt. However it may be working, atleast it provides a trickle of food security to that rural population with very low purchasing power. What needs is transparency in the system. The reports of the central committees should be made public and the criteria to measure food security should be redefined, in this case it is so low, that it brings starvation onto people. The government should reconsider its policies that are weakening the trickle of food going to the rural population. It should call off the bluff called by the private industry and take concrete steps to revise the system.
After a heart round of discussions, the representatives of the various women's organizastions present at the policy dialogue formulated a statement (given below) of their concerns and demands and presented it to the Hon'ble Minister, Mr. Shanta Kumar. This same document is also going to be presented to the World Food Summit Policy Makers
"Keeping Food Security in Women's Hands": Statement of Women's Groups from Policy Dialogue on Keeping Food Security in Women's Hands
Women are the majority of food producers/ farmers and the main food providers in families and communities. Women are also the worst victims of malnutrition and hunger.The growing destitution of millions of Indians because of displacement from livelihoods due to World Bank structural adjustment and WTO led Trade liberalization policies combined with the dismantling of the public distribution system is at the root of growing hunger and starvation in India. The women of India are committed to defending the food rights of all, especially women and children. And women are committed to keeping food security in women's hands and not let it hijacked by multi- national corporations.
Amongst their other demands, some of the women's demands to the National Policy Makers are:
- To create genuinely decentralized workable alternatives to the present wasteful, heavy and unmanageable food system.
- To ensure a gender- just food and agriculture policy based on the equal and fundamental right to food for all irrespective of gender, class and age. Need for a truly people- centered decentralized democratic model of food procurement and distribution for food security at household level and women's level.
- To call upon the government to strengthen the public distribution system (PDS), instead of its dismantling and stop the deliberate creation of hunger and malnutrition in India through structural adjustment policies especially those forced on agriculture. Even if the PDS is being dismantled, the government must take measures to ensure that Minimum Support Price is maintained and Farm Prices do not collapse. And the private traders meet MSP Prices.
- To halt the use of imported, unsafe food for welfare schemes such as the ICDS Mid- day Meal programme.
- To call upon the government to reorient to price support system to ensure meeting of basic food needs to women and children and to institute measures to ensure that each household meets its food needs at genuinely affordable prices.
- Restriction and ban on all exports of essential food till are all fed. To see that the food needs of women and children of this country are met first, and only the genuine surpluses from meeting this need are used for trade exports.
- Land use and Food production should not be diverted towards cash crops for increased exports, but should be modeled towards Gandhian principles of self- sufficiency.
- No hidden or covert subsidies are given to corporations, which will only threaten the very survival of small farmer.
- The government must take measures to stabilize the prices of food.
- To immediately implement schemes announced such as "Food for Work" to put a stop to starvation deaths in the worst affected areas.
- To ensure that the food-processing sector should be reserved for the small- scale sector, which is the primary provider of livelihood to women.
The Women's demands to the International Policy Makers:
- FAO must strengthen the People's Rights to their Resources - land, water & biodiversity- since alleviation of poverty is one of their major agendas and common people's lack of access to their resources can only lead to an increase in poverty. In this context, creation of seed monopolies, privatization of water and corporatization of land should be stopped.
- FAO must support the government on Food Security System based on Food Sovereignty rather than on global trade. The focus of the World Food Summit must be on the productivity of the small farms rather than on industrial and corporate farming.
- A moratorium on all GE crops until Biosafety Protocol is in place and extended trials have been done by Scientists to test the safety of GE foods. Since women and children are the worst victims of malnutrition, health hazards due to the consumption of genetically engineered foods will be most severely felt by poor women and children.