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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 30

Politics of Food

Wednesday 16 July 2008, by Kamala Prasad


India is back to the days of looking at the sky. Inflation was stated first to moderate from September 2008 provided the monsoon was normal. Now, hopes are being raised that nine per cent rate of growth of the GDP may still be realised, despite the high oil prices, on the back of good agricultural production as in the last three years. How reliable are these assurances insofar as food is concerned? There is surely a greater emphasis on the immediate prospects. This is needed, too, as any little support for the parliamentary elections due in early 2009. The long-term can be taken care of later. But what are the indications as of now? In a column in the Financial Express on July 3, 2006, Ashok B. Sharma had noted that the Agriculture Ministry, against the negotiating brief of India and the position of major developing countries, had sent a contrary advice on the eve of a mini-ministerial on WTO negotiations in Geneva. It suggested not “to press hard for reduction in rich countries’ farm subsidies, as India may need to depend partly upon cheap subsidised imports in the near future to meet the needs of the growing population”. By this time, it has also been disproved that farm subsidy would keep global grain prices cheap. They have jumped two-fold in just two years with no prospects for immediate reversal. ASSOCHM, a business association, has, on the basis of agricultural research institute work, predicted India to turn to be a “chronic importer” of rice and wheat by 2020 due to the neglect of agriculture and public investment in the sector since 2002!

Food politics is intimately related to food security as welfare gain for producers and consumers. It is realistically feared that the Millennium Development Goals for food security by 2015 is seriously endangered by the re-emergence of the current food inflation globally. There are prospects that high prices will prevail for at least a decade and no prediction of what happens thereafter should be taken as dependable. The Economist weekly of the UK terms it “a permanent relative price shock, not a temporary one”. Where should the blame lie after decades spent in building infrastructure for domestic food security and designing a framework for trade in agricultural commodities to be rule bound globally? One extreme view is that the global food crisis has been created by politicians obsessed with external security and new weapons of defence and offence. In India, there is broad opinion that the agriculture crisis is a product of the shifting goalpost of economic reforms initiated in 1991 away from structural problems and the investment needs of agriculture. Neglect of farmers and farming and the current food inflation has been further exacerbated by a misplaced zeal in delinking the liberalisation of food trade in a hurry from investment needs to expand food security to incorporate in it right to food.

Food in India, its strategy of production and mechanisms of delivery, has tremendous influence on the bulk of the population. Narayan Murthy of the Infosys fame mentions that around 80 per cent of the people are not participating in “wealth creation” while their expenditure share on food is relatively high. The poorer the income group, the higher is the share of food in consumption expenditure, farming families not excluded. This fact makes food a crucial factor in politics. In the recent State level elections, food price inflation has been in focus in the increased prices of essential commodities. The Congress as well as the BJP, the two major contestants in Karnataka, had promised cereals at rupees two a kilogram, rates far lower than for the beneficiaries of the TPDS! High food prices do tilt the balance against ruling parties. Food management in India is a joint State-Union undertaking but the Union has the dominant share in insuring food security, directly and indirectly. So, the image of the Union Government is being eroded despite all attempts to shift the onus of distribution exclusively to any State Government. A flashback to the difficult decades of the sixties and seventies may be instructive since consumption is retreating to the levels experienced then. However, during that decade public policy as well as management was not challenged on ideological grounds. Now this is realistically so.

Food scarcity was much more real then than now. The role of the central foodstock was crucial in holding price-line in the whole marketing chain. States were more vocal in making their demands on the Union Government to minimise attention to their own role. I recall a huge demand from West Bengal for additional food that Babu Jagjivan Ram agreed to make available. When officials pointed out the stocks position he smiled and stated that the State would never be able to arrange handling and distribution of that much of grain. I learnt that the State Minister later met him and remonstrated why he had so readily agreed to his demand! This brought in the issue of the public face of food politics. Rajendra Prasad, as the Food Minister on the morrow of independence, and Lal Bahadur Shastri, as the Prime Minister during the severe drought of the sixties, involved the public as an important stakeholder in overcoming the crisis. They were successful in generating support. Food was politics but of a different quality. It brought about a realisation among all stakeholders of the difficulties and the government’s efforts in tiding over tight supplies for years. Relief came with the high production of 1968 which led a transition in the old system of trade and import dependence. In the Biennial FAO Conference in Rome in 1969 the Director-General of the FAO specifically noted that a strong political leadership of the food and agriculture sector was important in each country for equalling India’s achievement.

The euphoria of 1969 was short-lived. The 1972-73 food inflation became a global crisis of supply as well. The FAO took the initiative to plead a security dimension to the access and price of food. It heralded a new global transition for putting the availability and price of food on sustainable basis. I asked Dr A. H. Boerma, the DG, in a private conversation why he had brought this term to seek global support. His candid response was that agriculture production and productivity were technical matters but food price and distribution had a systemic political dimension. The political leadership understands the emotive value of food security. So, the World Food Conference was jointly called in November 1974 in Rome by the Secretary-General of the UNO and the Director-General of the FAO. It drew other than agriculture, Ministers from developed and developing countries. The Conference drew a viable strategy of food and nutrition security and created new institutions for political deliberations and investment. And yet, the political commitment and momentum to treat food as above a purely commodity trading enterprise could not be sustained. About 33 years later in the first week of June this year the FAO Director-General stated in his opening address that “the problem of food insecurity is a political one”. [Business Standard, June 4, 2008] The President of the World Bank articulated a ten-point agenda on this occasion with emphasis that “food and fuel prices will shape politics”.

Indian Developments

HOW does economic reform fare in this scenario? Is the country’s commitment to food security in terms of both availability and affordable price of basic staples at risk? Why is there open voicing that the scenario is ideology-driven and from sustained measures to reverse the non-partisan, development-edge of food security? Rajendra Prasad had set in a tradition of experimenting measures and systems in furtherance of improving food management on a sustainable basis under Indian conditions. When debating decontrol of food in Parliament then it was repeatedly pointed out that even the USA was practicing controls. His candid answer was that India would not, in the matter of food, imitate one model or the other but will formulate its own. It gave birth to the twin objectives of domestic self-sufficiency in production and a trading system designed to supplement, stimulate and regulate rather than replace private trade wholesale. After the breakthrough in production of the 1960s Indira Gandhi expanded on it to gradually move away from food aid and fall back on commercial imports as pressure for the focus to remain on research, innovation and investment in the production infrastructure. The reforms of 1991 started diluting this inheritance that indicated a long-term objective to replace the basis both of production and fair distribution. The root of the present crisis lies in this radical shift based on the imitative-ideology of a purely market-based solution to even such a critical undertaking. The focus shifted to India becoming an entity in an interdependent world in which deficiency in food and nutrition needs could be sourced to a non-existent global market-place.

First, the current focus is on the rising price of food and not on the broader frame of deeper agricultural crisis. The issue of shifts in the trading arrangement cannot be sidetracked since that is the immediate face of the food crisis. For a few years now the decay of public distribution has been in political debate in Parliament and in public without any serious measure to reverse it. The government had not been able to dispel the deepening impression that it is not just a failure of administrative management but of public policy. It is a failure of political command and not of the administering instruments.

Second, taking up the immediate context, Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told Parliament on April 16 that firstly, there was no shortage of foodgrains in the country; secondly, the grain prices were stabilising, not declining; thirdly, demand had gone up owing to the NREG works and old age pension schemes that increase the purchasing power of the poor; fourthly, the Centre had not cut State allocations for PDS beyond their past capacity to lift; and finally, that the global food scenario was responsible for the unprecedented price hike in which India had the lowest increase but still at an “unacceptable level”. The Finance Minister repeatedly threw the responsibility for regulating price behaviour in the market on the State machinery under the Essential Commodities Act and the failure, if any, lay there. Asked about undue stocks with large corporate and multinationals and if they had been raided, he dodged the issue since de-hoarding operation was the States’ responsibility. At one stage he even suggested that prices would come down the next week but they increased instead. It was clear that fire fighting and un-coordinated measures were proving ineffective. It was time for the Prime Minister to intervene.

On April 25, a delegation of the Left allies of the government called on the Prime Minister and presented a charter suggesting comprehensive measures to contain inflation focused on food inflation. A statement was issued thereafter where the emphasis was purely political. The PM urged all parties “to eschew the temptation of politicising the misery of the people”. Further, in his view, there was no need for “political parties to indulge in scaremongering”. The PM is reported to have told the delegation that the government would “closely monitor the situation and would take steps to strengthen the PDS and the food procurement system”. As for the public, he pointed out that even if a person purchased half-a-kilogram rice extra, the sheer volume would create a scarcity. Incidently, this was against the reports that the poor and the vulnerable had cut on their expenditure on food! Finally, he alluded to “an extremely difficult global situation”. The Left reaction was instant and sharp. It called the statement unfortunate, and the government’s view “callous” to the people’s hardship. So, if direct politics was missing so far nothing could have been more transparent. Why did the alliance partners engage in this public display of hardcore politics of food?

Thirdly, the developments since 1991 may clarify it somewhat. The economic reform agenda included food as well both in fiscal consolidation in matter of food subsidy and restructuring as systemic transfer of trading in food to private hands. This was a uni-dimensional view of the inherited food system which had price regulation, stock regulation and income transfer to vulnerable consumers as its distribution objectives. Food-activists, including farm leaders, blame import-fixation for the domestic control of prices and focus away from incentives for production. Import liberalisation almost killed the technology mission potentials for oilseeds. Similarly, diversification to commercial crops like cotton while withdrawing price support has led to suicides in the cotton-belt of Vidarbha, tobacco zones in Andhra and other commodities elsewhere. Finally, policy change was made facilitating large procurement by traders, corporates and multinationals without the will to control/regulate hoarding that fuels price rise. A specialist, P. K. Joshi, the Director of the National Centre for Agricultural Economic and Policy, states that food has a marginal role in the gross inflation rate. “The share of three major imported items, pulses, edible oil and wheat, is less that five per cent in the major commodity (food and non-food) basket of the economy.” How can imports, then, bring down inflation significantly? It could merely provide a show of action without any outcome of significance.

Fourthly, the other dimensions of reforms intended to reduce fiscal commitment for food security. First, investment in production infrastructure was reduced by suggesting a trade-off between current subsidy and long-term capital investment. So, reduction in food subsidy, including modest increase in producer price, again killed incentives for higher private investment. The TPDS, (targeted public distribution system) in 1997, divided card-holders into BPL and APL. Thus, bureaucratic targeting replaced self-targeting under the universal PDS. The off take from the PDS declined so much that the government had to reduce consumer prices. This huge stock build-up was opportunity for the FCI’s open market operation and massive export of wheat and common variety of rice through private channels. The government subsidised both heavily but it was part of the total subsidy for PDS in the public view. Finally, when the crunch appeared in 2006 and 2007 in responding to additional demand from the States, Government introduced what it called a “prudent management” policy by cutting down allocations based on reduced offtakes. This had the effect of creating a psychology of scarcity with the States challenging even political motives in targeting them. It would seem, thus, that a situation of scarcity was the outcome of sustained government policy. It was unfair for the Prime Minister to blame it on political parties who differed in the diagnosis, his allies as well as others in the Opposition. Was this another attempt to hide the sustained ideological thrust to dilute food security of the masses?

What is apparent is that the economic reform agenda has targets in “particular interests” in showing the aggregate growth rate. Its focus remains on the maximum of 20 per cent of the population, as noted by Narayan Murthy, and not the bulk of the population. Poverty levels are going down, though slowly, but there is no attention to income levels commensurate either with the annual rate of growth or annually indexed to inflation to protect the consumption of the poor. This year’s crisis has tested the private trade in food under a liberal regime and it has failed. So, all attention remains still focused on PDS. But there is no idea of a long-term policy for food distribution in the light of the current failure, a policy that links average income of the lowest three-four deciles of the population to a consumption basket that caters to minimum nutrition as the core of poverty calculation. Mr Pawar’s statement that the NREG or public pension has increased demand may be clever but not convincing. That was the intent of the hard-fought case for the programme. Demand in the higher income deciles has also increased through consumption of high value and variety foods that use grains as feed. It is the unkindest allusion without conducting a survey to find out what the new demand trends are in the light of food preferences of the rich and the poor and what the projected supply and demand situation will be in a decadal scenario. The failure of the agricultural policy is writ large on the policy of looking for cheap imports of basic foodstuffs. It has now been reconfirmed that lessons of the past in finding the global price rising once India and/or China enter for large quantity import should never be ignored. A new policy for appropriate pricing and structure of distribution that secures the minimum needs of all the population or at least of the population that buys whole grain needs to be unfolded. That will provide a creative basis for monitoring that the PM wants the people to depend on.

Multilateral Organisations and Food Scenario

I first heard “politics of food” being in currency in the run-up to the World Food Conference in 1974. The crisis of food appeared despite the euphoria of the “Green Revolution”, another word first used by the USAID administrator, William Gaud, back in 1968. This signified that production revolution was important but not sufficient for adequacy of supply and affordability of price. The technology of the “Green Revolution” ended the regime of moderation in the cost of production. Intensive use of purchased inputs made price dependent on the price of hydrocarbon prices. Thus, after four-five years of the breakthrough from technology the world was plunged into the crisis of availability as well as the price of food. But the Conference witnessed sufficient political commitment to surmount the rigours of the crisis. The strategy was in global collaboration in crop research to offer more efficient seeds in the public domain; augment food aid to offer immediate relief to the needy countries to reduce nutrition gaps to the extent possible; provide for larger investment through existing multilateral financing as also by setting up a new investment body exclusively for agriculture; and mount technical assistance for vulnerable developing countries to evolve a food security strategy through amalgamated production for domestic sufficiency, stocking policies in the public sector and regulated distribution to serve all the population with differential pricing wherever feasible. This global initiative delivered.

The scenario at present is vastly different in dimension. The US political commitment was strong from fear of the poor and suffering countries falling into the Russian camp. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research was assured adequate funding. The FAO took up technical assistance through food security missions. The World Bank augmented assistance for agriculture. Global trade did not incorporate food as “strategic good”. All this has changed by now. Bringing agriculture under the WTO rules has created trading as “a new transmission mechanism” of worldwide food inflation. Food aid prospects have deteriorated. The WFP reports that food aid has declined to near fifty years low. Against the Conference target of 10 million tonnes, aid declined to 5.9 million tonnes in 2007, the lowest level since record keeping started in 1961. The other lowest year was the crisis year of 1973. Aid reduction by agencies is NGOs—19 per cent; multilateral including WFP—14 per cent and government-to-government—13 per cent. [Financial Times, June 10, 2008] Agricultural investment as percentage of ODA (official development assistance) was 16.9 per cent in 1985; 7.8 per cent in 1995; and 2.7 per cent in 2005. Global productivity has been declining and demand has been increasing with resulting pressure on prices. This is not expected to change for several years. Is the public sector’s retreat from the food scenario the cause? Must be. Finally, the more critical joining of food and fuel prices in production to distribution through the medium of trade is vastly different from the seventies.

The FAO convened the Global Summit on Food Security in the first week of June. The Secretary-General of the UN issued a warning that unless food production increased by 50 per cent by 2030 another crisis could not be averted. The Director-General of the FAO bewailed that there was no shortage of funds for armaments but he was not able to get assurance of assistance of a level of US$ 25 annually to assist food production in developing countries. Otherwise also, the Summit produced a disappointing result in this worsening scenario. The World Bank President called for “global-good” stock to offer food to poor countries at affordable prices but without any positive outcome. No “safety net” to tide over recurrence of such crisis appeared. The debate on diversion of food as fuel for biodiesel saw its stout defence by the USA, EU and Mexico who have ambitious targets for producing ethanol either from corn or sugar. Multilateral agencies have offered to increase their assistance level but not yet at the levels achieved earlier. These are indicators that India has to moderate its enthusiasm for integrating its food with the global marketplace. It has failed to offer incentive for farming in time and it will fail again. At least, the country should give the status of “national-good” to the availability of basic staples on which the bulk of the people still depend.

Global Politics

THIS is the context in which the contour of politics in food is practised globally. Global concern comes out merely in token steps to pursue positive policies for domestic food security. In the wake of the Washington Consensus on global economic restructuring, the multilateral financing institutions followed neo-liberal policies that prompted dismantling food security infrastructure in poorer countries, more so in Africa. The new course since WTO-I has been to pursue diversification to augment trade in commodities needed by more prosperous countries. The guiding economic orthodoxy of global trade expansion has produced increased dependence of vulnerable countries on the so called global market for food. More developing countries are food deficit today than during the food crisis of 1973.What is more, the suggested infrastructure for augmented food and production assistance has not materialised. Global trade assurances have been altruistic but the net outcome in matters of access and affordable food has been highly deficient.

This is the backdrop in which the Global Food Security Summit was prepared. The FAO had organised a consultation on “organic farming” to unravel the alternative to the highly intensive chemical input based production. The reduced cost of such inputs could reduce the cost of production and uncertainties associated with high and still rising prices of such inputs. It concluded that there was the potential to increase the current level of production by 134 per cent from the present level. In inaugurating the summit, the SG of the UN in effect set the target of production increase in the long-term. He noted that the level of production of food had to go up 50 per cent by 2030. The FAO DG put across the need for global assistance at US$ 30 billion annually for the target to be met. That would also “avoid future threats of conflict over food”. The Summit skipped the issue. The DG put his finger firmly at the major risk factor in availability and access. Biofuels from food commodities is the single such risk pushed by subsidies and protective tariff. The issue was sidestepped effectively by calling for “challenges and opportunities” of biofuels. Climate change and impact of food-futures on food security risks were just ignored. The Latin American countries almost stalled the final draft declaration on the issue of farm subsidies that reduced the case for giving adequately remunerative farm prices to farmers in developing countries. This was also ignored. It was no wonder, then, that Cuba put its finger on the “lack of political will among countries of the North to resolve the crisis”. It is significant also that India did not voice any disagreement with the Declaration that is heavily weighted against firm steps for risk mitigation and affordable food supply through viable production incentives for self-sufficiency. This Summit exemplifies transparently the persisting politics of food. What is lurking behind all the time is the clashing alternatives of “right to food versus right to profit” as the Economic and Political Weekly puts it. The right to profit benefits the rich countries and the rich in poor countries and that has strong and abiding government support.

The current crisis differs significantly from that during the early seventies, though the two are being frequently compared. The current crisis is of prices and comprehensive food related inflation surge. Food for fuel production for use by affluent automobile users is new. In the last couple of years maize production has gone up by 51 million tonnes but 50 million of this additional production has been used by the heavily protected and subsidised US bio-fuel industry. Climate change is of recent emergence. Studies indicate that a number of developing countries may be reaching the tipping point earlier than projected by the official UN-sponsored committee. It will have variable impact on different countries but tropical developing countries may have more severe impact. Petroleum use escalation is a product of larger use by the rich and also in lifestyle and the fashion industry. It impacts the poor in modernised food production food processing and the whole distribution technology. However, the scales are smaller in volume but large in terms of prices through the food marketing chain as well as trading margins. These factors are not immediate that will vanish with fire-fighting measures. Jagdish Bhagwati seems to be on firm ground in stating that “the present crisis reflects long-term factors which will likely not disappear”. This links the food crisis to the rising financial crisis requiring restructuring of existing global financial architecture that gives larger management stakes to new stakeholders.

Another important factor relates to technology of production and distribution. The 1973 crisis lapped up the new seed-fertiliser-extension technology in the teeth of the emerging energy crisis. Energy intensity has narrowed the scope for extensive agriculture and restricted productivity to limited areas with increasing cost and knowledge inputs. This has aggravated the rich-poor divide within countries and globally. The prospect of adopting genetically modified organisms with providers largely in the private domain will accentuate the social divide the potential of technology. Global finance has potential to link up through newer instruments that will accelerate cost and risk of productivity and income. Besides, the looming shortage of water is already reducing the relative share of agriculture in its use. The USA, which has all the multinational companies in the GM seeds field and part of the scientist community propagate all this as opportunity for more and irreplaceable profit source. However, when the Green Revolution technology could not universalise technology adoption then the pay-off from bio-tech seeds is at best overblown. States Lester R. Brown who was associated with a plan for India during 1960s:

Although biotechnologists have eeb engineering new plant varieties for two decades they have yet ro produce a single variety of wheat, rice or corn that can dramatically raise yields. The reason is that conventional plant breeders had already done most of the things they could think of to raise grain yields.

However, there is considerable slack in production and some extra land too that can stabilise productivity and add to total production. That is what requires external financial assistance for poor developing countries to make the desirable contribution to the grain pool. But there is no global commitment, particularly from the rich in the North, to that undertaking.

There is a last point regarding globally responsible conduct of public policy in aid of globalisation of grain production. There has to be a “level playing field” for all countries to relieve the world grain scarcity with affordable prices.

This has been a failed enterprise in terms of differences in levels of production. What has been equalised is the high and rising cost of production. The traditional technology was based on peasant proprietors that took pride in farming. They valued human qualities. The GM technology has appeared as a companion to economic liberalisation that intends to introduce corporate farming. The farmer we know will become wage worker on his own field. The progress moves in stages from contract farming, agri-business and agri-commodity exchanges. This American model is based on large per capita availability of land and manufacturing industry that produces all farm requisites. The two are in synergy. Developing country farming is based on small farms owned and operated by farm families to first meet the family food needs and offer the surplus to the market. This was the basis of food security. The American model can afford high subsidy and high levels of protection that keeps large farmers on land. This is a hurdle in the current Doha Round negotiations as well. The latest Farm Bill 2007 indicates how the high cost farming works. The Economist dubs it “a harvest of disgrace”. The Bill guarantees subsidy to protect annual income of 1.5million dollars to the farming families; the commercial farm families get more. How can the US’ politics of food smoothen sensible global trade in basic foodstuffs? In fact, the strain of protection runs deeper. Despite urgings by experts and food activists the Bill retains the provision that ties food aid to US-grown grain carried in American ships resulting in actual food aid reduced to less than 30 per cent of what is reported in financial terms. If this money were to be offered in cash for local purchase it could support local production for sustainable food security. Where would the traditional politics of food globally be in that case? That politics survives to justify the iniquitous global food system that survives on inherent imbalances and produces periodic food crisis.

The Way Out

FOOD crisis is obviously built into the domestic and global economic systems. That system is prone to recurrent crisis. Is it possible to separate the food system from the rest? The latest complexity in the crisis does not provide any signal for that. It signifies, then, that vulnerable countries must evolve protective mechanisms to make their food security system sustainable. The global system can stand only on the basis of a sustainable, national food security system. And, grassroots security for the local community is the foundation of such building blocks. India’s old system was a good model. The global system that the 1974 World Food Conference recommended took partly from our system as the suitable one for the developing world. If the country is relatively protected from global turmoil in respect of food supply it is in no small measure from the efforts of our farmers and consumers who have stood so far against a wholesale change in the model.

The world is groping in the dark about a more durable systemic alternative. This poses to be a hazardous and uncertain undertaking. There is evidently a clash between a purely business-driven model of food security and an alternative founded on permanent government intervention to function as a countervailing force in the market and regulating availability and prices. There is an emerging conflict between food choice and value based purchasing by the affluent classes in developing countries imitating the lifestyle in the rich world and the unorganised demand so far for greater equity in food access for all the population. The “rich are getting hungries” mentions Amartya Sen. But the poor are getting restive. Countries like India that are secure at present have a history of food riots. On present count, more than 30 countries have suffered such riots this year. There is a third kind of clash between the interests of the rich nations that engage in protection for their own country and preach liberal export-import regime for the rest but unhindered by severe regulation. In the matter of food the world remains divided in three: the surplus exporting countries in wheat and corn; the surplus rice countries; and the rest who live on the margins and depend on imports almost on a regular basis. It is clear in the way the course of the present crisis has been managed that deficit nations are growing and food shortage and high prices are there to stay. In this scenario, globalisation without a framework of global welfare mechanism can only result in local wars and risk for global political chaos and economic and social turmoil.

Food politics has taken us to this state. Politics is also the force that can reverse the trend. Whatever scenarios are explored there is no escape from the fact of government intervention. When markets fail or are seen to follow a perverse course that hurts the masses the government alone has the moral authority to engage in legitimate intervention. When a government fails, it is to be changed by the people. Indian democracy has played this legitimate game positively. The problem is in global political pressures to dilute food security. Europe and America maintain their system of food security and mechanisms devised to protect it. They are not equally interested in most, if not all, developing countries doing the same with their support. The spectre of the US blaming China and India for the current food crisis is there. At the Global Food Summit NGOs made out that biofuels have added 30 per cent to food inflation globally. The US and Europe would not respond meaningfully for any change of course. The politics of the rich countries in the North has remained unchallenged so far. They see a shift in this situation from the changing economic forces. The Russian President has suggested at an international conference that the US no longer has the capacity to match its ambitions of global control. Is this power politics? But the past President of the IMF, then Finance Minister of Italy, suggested in February that the world was running an unsustainable system—if the 15 per cent of the population (of the rich) could cause such food inflation then we should ponder what would happen when 50 per cent reach that level. Changing the model of domestic food security for all countries can achieve that. It is being resisted in global encounters by giving legitimacy to proposals, financial and technical, for the same. Will this negative face of globalisation change to welcome food security as global good in which every rich country should participate to the best of its capacity? Too idealistic? Perhaps. There is a need for some visionary politics to make the progress of the 21st century more eventful than the preceding one of global wars.

The author, a distinguished administrator, is a former Chief Secretary of Bihar (now retired).

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