When I was a child and refused to eat Brussels sprouts, my mother would often say, “There are starving children in India who would love to have what you have on your plate.” Exactly what that had to do with the fact that I did not want to eat these mushy green things on my plate was never really clear to me. More often than not, my response was “Fine, I will send this to them.” Mothers today cannot use this guilt inducing line because, for the most part, there are not starving people in India. How this nation went from a center of starvation to a major food exporting country is a lesson policy makers in the US should study.
In 1966, following 2 years of drought, the Indian government implemented significant policy reforms focused on the goal of foodgrain self-sufficiency. This ushered in India’s Green Revolution. It began with the decision to adopt superior yielding, disease resistant, wheat varieties in combination with better farming knowledge to improve productivity. With both the farmers and the government officials focusing on farm productivity and knowledge transfer, India’s total foodgrain production soared. A hectare of Indian wheat farms that produced an average of 0.8 tonnes in 1948, produced 4.7 tonnes of wheat in 1975 from the same land. Such rapid growth in farm productivity enabled India to become self-sufficient by the 1970s. It also empowered the smallholder farmers to seek further means to increase food staples produced per hectare. By 2000, Indian farms were adopting wheat varieties capable of yielding 6 tonnes of wheat per hectare. Following this success, farmers began adopting this new technology to rice, dairy, and vegetable production. As of 2011, India had a large and diverse agricultural sector, accounting for about 16% of GDP and 10% of export earnings on average. India’s arable land area of 159.7 million hectares (394.6 million acres) is the second largest in the world, after the United States.
There was a time in the US when farmers and government policy focused on the adoption of new production technology and, like India, US agriculture output expanded tremendously, providing a stable, diverse and affordable food supply for our population as well as a much of the world. But in recent years, production and technology have taken a back seat to political correctness and the current food fad of the day.
India does not have a vocal organic movement. Neither does it have well-funded organizations pushing for limits or bans on biotechnology. It doesn’t have government organizations putting restrictions on farmers and farmland. The people of India and their leaders still remember what it is like to not have enough food.
The well-fed bloggers and social media voices, who clamor about the technology used to produce our food or advocate an organic-only system, don’t understand the connection between agriculture and starvation. An agricultural system that cannot produce food to feed its people results in starvation. This is a reality that India remembers all too well and many nations in Africa and Asia live every day. For most Americans, food insecurity means not having a big box grocery store in your neighborhood or not having a Starbucks at the corner. For a segment of Americans, not being able to afford food is a reality, but not having any food to get is not.
Those who advocate for a food system that cannot feed the people of this country and a significant part of the world are advocating starvation. In this scenario, it would be mothers in India that would be admonishing their children to eat their vegetables because there were hungry children in the United States.
By Gary Truitt