Against the Grain
Making both Ends Meat
As people get richer, their eating habits change. They begin to eat more meat. They begin to eat eggs, milk, cheese, fresh fruits, high-value vegetables like asparagus. The dining table looks full and good. But each meal becomes more environmentally damaging.
A good example of this is China. Since 1978, a lot of people in China got richer. One of the first things they did was to start eating meat. With rising incomes and a changed westernised lifestyle, China looks to eating more meat in the future. This means it must look for more grain. It requires grain to produce meat, grain that pigs and chicken have to be fed. For each kilogram of poultry you wish to produce, you need two kilograms of grain. For each kilogram of pork (pig meat), you need four kilograms.
And as the Chinese get richer, they will start eating milk and eggs too. For which they need even more grain. To meet the increased demand for meat, milk, and eggs, China must either increase the amount of grain it produces, or import it. To increase its production, it must bring more area under grain cultivation. But thereÕs a problem here.
As China has industrialised, more land has been put to nonfarming uses. Factories, houses, parking lots for cars, highways...all are built upon land. In addition, more land is being used to plant vegetables like asparagus. The area under grain has been decreasing in China. So China can import grain. How much grain will it need to import? Take eggs.
China has set itself the goal that by 2000AD, each person should be able to eat 200 eggs in a year (as part of a healthy diet). To satisfy its eggeaters, it should have a flock of 1.3 billion. To feed all these hens, it would require 24 million tonnes of grain, an amount equal to the total exports of Canada, the worldÕs 2nd largest exporter of grain.
If all the grain from Canada goes to China, the prices of grain in the world market will increase. Some more people will be unable to buy grain in China and in countries far away from it. And what if China imports not grain, but meat? (In fact, in 1993, it imported 2,100 tonnes of beef from Australia.)
That meat will come from feedlots from some country, because the world's rangelands are already being grazed at or near capacity. Which means more grain for the cattle in that feedlot in that country. Which means whether China imports grain or meat, somewhere in the world croplands will come under increased pressure.
All Foods Day
This year, the government of India has decided to celebrate April 1 as All Foods Day. Are they April-fooling farmers and 550 million people living in rural India?
From April 1, 2000 all restrictions will be lifted on the import of food produce and allied products. (Governments impose restrictions on imports to protect domestic markets. This way, outside buyers and sellers don't get to play around with the price of products. Restrictions can be in the form of quotas -how much of something you can bring in - and duties and tariffs, a fixed amount paid on a product.) There will be no import duty on rice, full-grain and broken.
None for maize, jowar, bajra, and milk. Egg products and poultry will attract import duties between 15 and 40 per cent. Tariffs will be very low for a host of vegetables. What does this mean? Take the case of milk. India produces 75, 000 million tonnes of milk. It forms the livelihood for 80 million women owning just one buffalo or two cows. What will milk imports do to them? Dr Verghese Kurien, who masterminded Operation Flood and helped India become nearly self-sufficient in milk production, explains: "It'll have a negative effect. Producing milk isn't a hobby for our farmers, it's their source of income." If a competitor brings in low-cost milk and drives down milk prices in India, farmers will put less money in producing milk. If this continues, farmers will sell their milch cows and exit dairying. "Our milk prices will rise and foreign milk will start coming in at a much higher cost to our consumer," Kurien says.
If we resort to large-scale imports, all urban department stores will be stocked up. But the rural poor won’t have any money to buy them
All Foods Day, it seems, is not a prank. It is a promise being fulfilled. The Indian government team that went for talks to Seattle in December, 1999 promised the World Trade Organisation to 'liberalise' further, 'open up', and 'integrate' their market with the rest of the world. But doesn't it threaten India's food security? As M S Swaminathan, a pioneer of the Green Revolution, puts it: "We must make our choices now. If not, farmers will move to urban slums, impoverishment will spread and inequity will grow at incredible speed."
Some feel All Foods Day celebrates free trade. Food will cost less. More food will be available. Swaminathan disagrees. "Food security isn't just about availability. Food should also be accessible to all. If we resort to large-scale imports, all urban department stores will be stocked up. But the rural poor won't have any money to buy them. Their survival as food producers would stand denied."
(based on an article in OUTLOOK magazine)