I am happy to be here to participate in this Congress of Socialist International. I bring you greetings from the Congress President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, who was unable to be here because of her work at home.
In a Committee of the Party, drafting Resolutions for the Congress Session I was told by our Harvard educated senior leader “Maggie you are the last of the die hard of the Socialist of the 60’s, the world is changing and so must you”, I told him it was too late for me to change at this stage. Sitting here listening to the speeches over the last two days, it has gladdened my heart to see that there are leaders round the world who act not only who take decisions not only that their heads but also with their hearts. I congratulate Socialist International and the theme of the Congress and the subjects selected for discussion.
This is the age of Science and Technology. Man is reaching the Moon, Mars and Mercury and yet we see the tragedy of migrations, food refugees, women, children and men starving unwanted and exploited because they are burdened of the richer states. Imposed wars and man-made natural disasters are leading to food shortages, food barriers, raising food costs coupled with speculation in food and manipulation of stocks not to mention destruction of food to keep prices rise. The world is challenged by the picture of gluttony and starvation. While millions die for want of food and water, there are others who suffer because of too much food consumed. Studies show that 67 million tonnes of cereals is consumed by 26 per cent of the world’s population living in developed countries while almost an equal amount is consumed by the remaining 74 per cent living in the developing countries. 37 KG of corn, we are told, goes in the making of 1 KG of beef in the West. I was once taken on a trip to a modern farm in the mid-west of US, the corn cobs that I saw shocked me, they were of a gigantic size. When I commented on the size, I was told by the owner of the farm, “This is food for our cattle, what is left over goes as aid to the developing countries”. I had no reply but I have never forgotten this incident. 39 per cent of the world’s cereals, we are told goes as cattle food. 47 per cent is consumed as food. 3.5 per cent for bio-fuel and the rest for others uses. Who is responsible for the food crisis? You in the developing world are more concerned about feeding cattle and cars while vast populations die of hunger and starvation. Those who glut over their food production and food security for their populations, forget with this disparity cannot go on and rest of conflict in other parts of the world are within their own populations denied water and food at affordable costs and unfair quantity will spread and engulf them all. There can be no winners and losers in this battle for survival.
Speaking about India, we have recently had “ A wise man from the West”, told the world that the food crisis in the world is because Indians are eating more and their population is growing. Yes, Indians are eating more and we are proud of it. The nutrition levels of our people must go up and we are taking many steps in this direction but I would like to tell this Gentleman that it would do him good to inspect the garbage dumps in his backyard and see the wastage of food in a consumption-oriented society. We have introduced many measures for meeting the nutrition of our people. We have pre-school centers, children receive special nutrition. We have free mid-day meals for all children in schools up to the 8th class. We have perhaps the world’s largest public distribution system were subsidized food articles are made available for the poor.
It was Mrs. Indira Gandhi in the late 60’s who declared “We will never beg for food again” when the US imposed unacceptable conditions of food aid when we had problems of agricultural production following our land reform programs. It was as challenged that teams of scientists and agricultural experts were put together to increase domestic production and make self-sufficiency in food. Thus came the Green Revolution and food self-sufficiency but Governments changed and the emphasis began to shift to industry because we were told that only an industrialist India could become a powerful nation. “It is cheaper to buy food” we were told and so came the face of subsidized food production unviable. Cost of inputs rose and competition from abroad destroy the pace of agricultural and the farmers began to switch to commercial crops, while their children now educated sought to shift to other professions. Agricultural land acquire and diverted for Special Economic Zone, climate change and successive droughts and floods and changing rain patterns created problems and domestic food crisis. BT seeds introduced without sufficient preparations and its failure is one of the reasons to include. It is in response to this situation that the Government acted decisively and started massive investments in rural development agricultural support prices, subsidies of inputs, irrigation projects, and recently the waiver of farm loan to the tune of Rs.71 crores to get the small farmer back on his foot again. Results have began to show and we hope to be able to reach self-sufficiency in the near future.
We have also introduced National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme which provides employment of 100 days to the unemployed who seek employment at minimum wages fixed by the Government to deal with rural distress following crop failures. At the international level urgent interventions at three levels are called for i.e., at the local or national level, at the regional level and at the international level. At the local level, nations would have to make massive investments in agriculture and rural development to increase output. They must remove protective measures which keep domestic prices high. I remember television pictures of farmers in Europe pouring barrels of milk into the sea to prevent milk prices from falling. Is this just of fair practice ? They divert productive land to food production and fight climate change caused by damage to the environment. Regional level, they must be greater cooperation and sharing of available food and expertise to overcome food shortages. Permit free movement of food within regions, remove protective duties, reconsider their policies on animal food and bio-fuels. At the global level, speculation in food prices must comment an emergency world food programme must be launched with those boasting of surplus contributing to meet the needs of those who face famine and starvation.
Last but not the least, investment in training women to improve their skills and increase production must receive priority. It is the women in the developing world that are backbone of agriculture, the drudgery of their lives must end and their skills must be upgraded with supportive mechanisms so that they can help produce more.
I support the draft Resolution which has been circulated and I would quote from the Resolution Para 6 “The food crisis is an example not only of how markets alone cannot provide solutions, but also of how markets, when they are left alone, can add to the problem that needs to be solved “.
“The global economy has evolved greatly but with political will and determination agricultural policies can still be reformed in a coordinated way at the national, regional and global levels to alleviate today’s food crisis and to make substantial progress in reducing world hunger overall”.
Yes, global efforts requires a renewed sense of solidarity by putting human values before exchange values and to focus on revitalizing production and relying on more traditional foods supported by higher levels of public investment in agricultural development and technologies.
I thank you for the opportunity of participating in this debate and hope that this congress will come out with concrete follow up measures for relieving the hunger of a vast majority of the world’s population. I would quote with the words of Mahatma Gandhi who said, “There is enough in the world for everyone’s needs but not enough for human greed”.
We have had the problem of failing food production (by25%) coupled with raising food prices (57%) during 2007-2008) . Rice and wheat prices have doubled during that period.