Over the past two decades, India’s combination of low wages and a lack of investment in agriculture has forced even the poorest of citizens to pay more money for less food. India has turned into a home for over 200 million hungry or malnourished people.
In 2001, India’s Supreme Course acknowledged the “Right to Food,” calling on nutrition programs across the country to aid the nation’s hungry. However, the poorest were left out of the equation due to faulty methods of identifying high-need households.
In 2009, the newly-elected United Progressive Alliance government announced that it would pass legislation that would tackle the nation’s issues with food security, if re-elected in 2014. The proposed National Food Security Bill will reach Parliament later this year for further discussion.
The Bill promises to triple the number of households eligible for discounted grains from the government’s subsidized food system. This will give 63.5% of the population, split into “priority” and “general” need-based groups, the ability to buy wheat and rice at discounted prices.
However, critics remain skeptical of the politically charged Bill. Critics argue that increased access to subsidized grains is not what India needs. India’s lack of investment in the agricultural industry, such as research, infrastructure and food and water safety has led to increased dependency on importation. The resulting Westernization has resulted in India’s nutrition transition and a new diet high in animal food. A true solution would be to invest in the nation’s agriculture.
Meanwhile, debates continue over the U.S. Farm Bill. The Bill is 9 months behind schedule and holding on to a one-year extension. The extension is due to expire on September 30th, after a lengthy 5-week summer recess, leaving Congress with 12 working days to come to agreement.
Much of the debate over the Farm Bill lies in the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which has been included in the Bill since 1973. The Bill failed to pass renewal by the Republican-controlled House in June after Republicans urged for deeper cuts to SNAP. In early July, the House surprised everyone when it released a Farm Bill that expanded farm subsidies but omitted SNAP, causing outrage among the Democrat-controlled Senate, as well as the White House, which threatens to veto the Bill.
House Republics are currently holding a series of closed-door meetings to discuss next steps for the SNAP-less Farm Bill before it enters the Senate. Discussions over SNAP, however, remain unclear.
Based on these concurrent events, it is clear that food remains an abstract idea that remains independent of the greater food system. Without long-term measures to increase agricultural production, India’s presens a short-term fix to a long-term problem. In the end, India might find itself in the U.S.’s shoes.
Let the current status of the U.S. Farm Bill serve as a warning sign to India’s leaders. If the National Food Security Bill passes in it’s current form, India need not look further than the U.S. to get a glimpse of it’s near future: over-dependence on farm subsidy, inevitable cuts in nutrition assistance programs and a disregard for the greater food system. A true Food Bill is one that balances a nation’s food, land and people.