World Grain Forum, St. Petersburg, 6-7 June 2009
We complement the Government of the Russian Federation for organizing this Forum which will contribute to the momentum of international discussions on the subject and provide a platform for discussion on measures needed to address the problem. I am happy to note that the organizers have been able to get a very distinguished panel to speak on the subject and am confident that the deliberation in the various sessions will be very useful and give us a road map on how to proceed further.
2. Mr. Chairman, a question was asked yesterday “who will feed China?” The answer was China will feed itself! India will not only feed itself but will contribute to global surpluses.
3. We are meeting at a time when the world food supply position appears quite comfortable and OECD and FAO Agricultural Outlook projects that prices will rise only slightly during the next ten years at a rate i.e. less than the rate of inflation. There are, however, many factors that suggest food prices could increase at rates faster than inflation. First, grain yields are still increasing, but the rate of increase has slowed to a trickle. For example, rice yield growth is now slower than population growth, despite the fact that population growth is declining, suggesting that technological progress may be slowing down. The problem of slower yield growth is exacerbated by the demand from bio-fuels. While the quest of the world community for finding sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels is well appreciated, manufacture of bio-fuels at the cost of food grains needs to be examined in more depth.
4. Climate Change is another factor that has to be seriously taken note of. We do not know even at this stage how exactly Climate Change will affect global agriculture. One thing is certain: Climate Change is likely to bring more uncertainties and the farmers across the world are not sure how they are going to cope with it. Research, particularly in the public domain, has not yet started addressing this issue in right earnest.
5. Despite the supply position being comfortable at present, food security is being threatened by the world financial crisis. The impact of financial crisis will be felt most in the Least Developed Countries with negative effects on their agriculture and food security as agricultural credits, bank lending, Official Development Aid and Foreign Direct Investments get affected by the financial crisis. This can’t come at a worse time. In 2007, we saw the soaring food price crisis throwing an additional 75 million people into hunger and poverty.
6. Mr. Chairman, the distinguished panelists who spoke earlier mentioned some key issues:
-Improving access to food
-National responsibilities in ensuring food security
-Desirability of keeping physical food reserves at national, regional levels
7. India realizes that the key to the problem of food security lies in increasing food production. This calls for increased investments in agriculture, agricultural research and transferring technology in a cost effective manner to the people who need it. One of the main challenges before us, therefore, is to enhance investment in research in public sector and making the products of such research easily available to the farmers in developing countries particularly Least Developed Countries.
8. As natural resources are under stress, there is also an urgent need to increase productivity in a sustainable manner. This calls for knowledge based interventions and application of frontier technologies in conjunction with sound conventional approaches and enhancing input use efficiency. This will go a long way not only in sustaining productivity but increasing it to meet the requirement of increasing population and additional requirement of food arising as a result of rapid economic development in many of the countries.
9. Producing adequate quantities of food is no guarantee that poor people will have access to it. An efficient distribution system that ring-fences the poor against shortages and price volatilities in the market, needs to be put in place in countries where such poor can be adversely affected.
10. However food aid is an emergency response to calamities, both natural and manmade and cannot take the place of long term sustainable agriculture. Agriculture in poor regions of the world is not only about food security but also about the capacity of individual small farm families to get out of poverty. We believe that, in the long run, the biggest service the world community can do to food security is to develop capacities of the Least Developed Countries to develop their agriculture.
11. We in India have taken the problem of food security as a top priority. We have been feeding 17 per cent of the world’s population on less than 5 per cent of the world’s water and 3 per cent of its arable land. Today, we are not only self-sufficient but have exportable surpluses though to a limited extent.
12. We have, over the last two years increased public investment substantially. We have, had a record food-grains production of over 230 million tonnes during 2007-08 with record Rice and Wheat production of more than 175 million tonnes.
13. Procurement of food grains for Public Distribution System covering 70 million people is of the order of 50 million tonnes this year. Our Public Distribution System is one of the largest and takes care of about one third of our population.
14. Our growth rate in agriculture has been 4 plus percent during the last three years. This year we expect a growth of 1.8%. The new Government of Dr Manmohan Singh is determined to take agriculture growth to 4% plus per year for the next five years.
15. The biggest challenge for the government is not only to sustain these production levels but improve upon these significantly to meet the challenge of increasing demand as a result of increasing population and improving economic conditions of people.
16. We intend to do this through increasing investments in agriculture and rural infrastructure, agricultural research and development and transferring new technology to farmers at affordable costs to enable them to cope with challenges of Climate Change and integrating our agriculture with markets.
17. We understand that the poor needs to be given access to food in an effective manner. We also realize the special needs of women and children. We have therefore initiated the following in addition to the existing public distribution system:
-an employment guarantee programme to provide purchasing power to the economically weaker sections – guaranteed minimum employment for 100 days in a year per family
- universal coverage of all children up to class 7 with a mid day meal programme
-universal coverage of all pregnant and lactating mothers and children below 2 years with the ICDS programme of immunization and nutrition.
- an old age cash pension scheme for the aged and other similar vulnerable sections
18. The importance of food aid and international trade in food grains can not be underestimated. The world probably needs an emergency food reserve: a small reserve (large enough to cover emergencies but not that large to distort markets) collectively owned by the global community held mostly as physical stocks. Part of these stocks could be held by private trade but on public account. Organizations like WFP or the countries themselves can draw from these stocks in emergencies on an agreed protocol. With global stocks of food-grains reasonably high, this might be the best time to start the process. We, in SAARC, have made a modest beginning when we started the SAARC food bank under the leadership of our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in 2007. This experiment could probably be further fine-tuned and adopted globally.
19. Mr. Chairman, our experience in India gives us confidence that the challenges of food security can be met by the world community. I am confident that the deliberations in this Forum will be helpful in addressing the problem in a meaningful manner.